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Why is it so hard to vote in Texas?

In recent weeks, we’ve talked a lot about the importance of voting, convincing the non-voter to vote, and falsehoods about voting. Voter apathy is very real. It’s one of the reasons the U.S. has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the developed world, but it’s certainly not the only reason. Registration, scheduling, and voter suppression contribute to this problem as well, and unfortunately, it’s simply much harder to vote in some states than others. On the contrary, states, where it’s the easiest to vote, have conveniences like online voter registration, automatic voter registration, allowing voters to register on Election Day, and some even have universal mail-in voting. In a new series, we’re going to look at reasons why it’s so hard to vote in some of our nation’s states: Texas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Virginia. 

Why it’s so hard to vote in Texas

Voting laws in Texas are some of the most restrictive in the country, so it’s no surprise that voter turnout is also among the lowest. In the 2016 presidential race, turnout was 51.4% of Texas’ eligible voters while the national average was 60.1%. Some of the reasons are:

  • The in-person voter registration deadline is 30 days prior to Election Day
  • Election officials have reduced the number of polling stations in some areas of Texas by more than 50%
  • Texas has the most restrictive pre-registration laws in the country
  • Voting by mail is only available to people ages 65 and older, eligible voters in jail, those with a disability, and voters who are out of their county during voting
  • Tight voter photo identification laws
  • Polling stations opening late and long lines to vote
  • Noncompliance with the National Voter Registration Act
  • Provisional ballot problems
  • Voter intimidation
  • Voting machine malfunctions

The Texas voting system has historically disenfranchised minority and low-income communities and an extensive report following the 2018 midterm election by the Texas Civil Rights Project found long lines, voter intimidation, voting machine malfunctions, and other issues affected almost 278,000 Texans. Since 2018 there have been massive efforts by the Texas Election Protection Coalition to right some of the wrong ahead of this Election Day. 

There is promising data coming out of Texas that these efforts may be working! Earlier this week the Houston Chronicle reported that 4 million ballots have already been cast in Texas. Those ballots account for ~45% of the nearly 9 million total votes counted during the 2016 presidential election. 

If you haven’t already voted, make sure you do everything you can to ensure your vote is cast and counted before Election Day. Here’s how to make sure your vote is counted in Texas!

Vote Early!

  • In-person early voting began October 13 and will remain open until next Friday, October 30. 
  • Anyone who is registered to vote may vote early, but it must be done in person unless you qualify to vote by mail.
  • You are allowed to vote at any polling location in the county where they are registered to vote. Early voting locations can be found here.

Vote on Election Day

  • *IMPORTANT* Polling locations are not always the same on Election Day as they are during early voting. Check the open polling locations in your area before you leave your home. In some counties, voting may be restricted to your designated precinct while others allow voters to go to any polling place on Election Day.

Vote by Mail

  • The last day to apply for a ballot by mail is this Friday, October 23.
  • The deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned to the county is Election Day - Nov. 3. If your ballot is postmarked by 7 p.m. that day, it will be counted if received by the county by 5 p.m. on Nov. 4 
  • The U.S. Postal Service recommends that Texans drop completed ballots in the mail a week before the election. 

In-person COVID Precautions

  • Maintain social distance of at least 6-feet between yourself and others
  • Screen yourself for any new symptoms of COVID-19
  • Bring your own pen and hand sanitizer
  • Disinfect your hands upon entering and leaving the polling station
  • Wear a face mask
  • If you do contract COVID and are unable to vote at the polling place after the deadline to submit an application for a ballot by mail, contact your county election officer. You may be able to submit an “Application for Emergency Early Voting Ballot Due to Sickness or Physical Disability.”

Just because you live in a state where it’s more difficult to vote, shouldn’t keep you from showing up. This is a very important and exciting time to get involved in our political process and let your voice be heard. Make a plan to vote with friends and enjoy the process! Be sure to read our Election Day Guide for ideas of what to bring and how to prepare.

Let’s #IGNITEthevote together. Get started by making your plan to vote

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