Here’s how to vote in Texas’ Nov. 8 midterm elections

(Emily Albracht For The Texas Tribune, Emily Albracht For The Texas Tribune)

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What’s on the ballot?

While there is no presidential election this year, eligible Texans can cast their ballots for state leaders and their district-based representatives.

The governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, land commissioner and agriculture commissioner — who all serve four-year terms — are up for election.

Members of the state’s Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, and various state courts are up for election to six-year terms.

All U.S. representatives, state senators, state representatives and members of the State Board of Education are also up for election after the redrawing of political districts last year based on the 2020 census. U.S. and state representatives are elected to two-year terms while state senators and State Board of Education members draw lots to serve two- or four-year terms after the first post-redistricting election.

Some Texas communities will also hold elections for city, county and school board offices and local bonds or propositions.

You can use our ballot lookup tool to see what state and federal elections you can vote in based on your address. Votes can’t be cast in uncontested statewide races, which will be listed separately on the ballot after races with multiple candidates. You can also view how your districts may have changed here. (Don’t worry: We don’t store your information.)

What dates do I need to know?

Oct. 11 was the last day to register to vote and to submit an address change for the midterm election.

You can report an address or name change online. You should do this if you’ve moved since the last time you voted, especially if you have moved to a different county or political subdivision, or have legally taken a different name.

How do I check if I’m registered to vote?

You can check to see if you’re registered and verify your information through the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

You’ll need one of the following three combinations to log in:

  • Your Texas driver’s license number and date of birth.
  • Your first and last names, date of birth and county you reside in.
  • Your date of birth and Voter Unique Identifier, which appears on your voter registration certificate.

Read more about voter registration requirements further down in this story.

Oct. 28 is the last day to apply to vote by mail.

When do I need to drop off or mail an application?

Applications must be received by the early voting clerk in your county — not postmarked — by Oct. 28. Applications can also be submitted by fax or email, but the county must receive a hard copy within four business days. They can also be dropped off in person.

You can download an application here or request an application to be mailed to you here.

If you’re looking to vote by mail, give yourself as much leeway as possible. You’ll need to budget for the time it may take your county to get your ballot to you in the mail after you apply.

What is the deadline to mail my ballot?

The deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned to the county is Election Day, Nov. 8. If a ballot is postmarked by 7 p.m. locally that day, it’ll be counted if it’s received by the county by 5 p.m. Nov. 9.

Absentee ballots can also be delivered to the county elections office in person with a valid form of ID while polls are open on Election Day.

Completed ballots from military or overseas voters are accepted if they’re received by Nov. 14. (Military and overseas voters can go through a different ballot request and return process.)

Read more about vote-by-mail requirements in this section.

Early voting in person runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4. If you can’t vote inside of a polling place because of COVID-19 or a disability, curbside voting may be available to you. Read more about what qualifies as a disability here and about curbside voting options here.

Who is eligible to vote early?

Anyone who is registered to vote may vote early, but it must be done in person unless you qualify to vote by mail.

Where am I allowed to vote early?  

Voters can cast ballots at any polling location in the county where they are registered to vote. Check your county elections office’s website for early-voting locations.

Election Day is Nov. 8.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Are polling locations the same on Election Day as they are during early voting?  

Not always. Check the open polling locations in your area before you head to cast your ballot. In some counties, Election Day voting may be restricted to locations in your designated precinct. Other counties allow voters to cast their ballots at any polling place on Election Day.

Read more about poll options for those affected by COVID-19 in this section.

What do I need to know about voter registration requirements?

Who can register to vote in Texas?

U.S. citizens in Texas can register to vote in the election if they are 18 or older or if they will be 18 by Election Day.

Citizens in the state cannot register to vote if they have been convicted with a felony and are still serving a sentence, including parole or probation, or if they have been deemed mentally incapacitated in court. Here are more specifics on eligibility.

How do I register to vote?

You’ll need to fill out and submit a paper voter registration application by Oct. 11.

You can request a postage-paid application through the mail or find one at county voter registrars’ offices and some post offices, government offices or high schools. You can also print out the online application and mail it to the voter registrar in your county.

Applications must be postmarked by the Oct. 11 deadline. Download your application here.

Additionally, you can register to vote through the Texas Department of Public Safety while renewing your driver’s license, even if you’re doing so online. This is the only form of online registration in the state.

After you register to vote, you will receive a voter registration certificate within 30 days. It’ll contain your voter information, including the Voter Unique Identifier number needed to update your voter registration online. If the certificate has incorrect information, you’ll need to note corrections and send it to your local voter registrar as soon as possible.

The voter registration certificate can also be used as a secondary form of ID when you vote if you don’t have one of the seven state-approved photo IDs. More info on that here.

Do you have to reregister to vote?

Once you register to vote, you generally remain registered, but there are various reasons why you may want to verify your registration status. For example, you need to update your registration after a name or address change. You can make those updates online here.

If a county receives a nondeliverable notice after sending a voter registration certificate or suspects an address change, a voter is placed on a “suspense list” and asked to confirm their address. Voters on the suspense list can still vote if they update or confirm their address before the voter registration deadline for an election or fill out a “statement of residence” when voting, but they may have to vote at their previous polling location or vote on a limited ballot. If no action is taken by a suspended voter, they are removed from the voter rolls after about four years, said Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the Texas secretary of state’s office.

The state also conducts reviews of voter rolls to remove what officials suspect might be ineligible registrations, which have incorrectly flagged naturalized citizens in the past. Federal law prevents the state from removing registered voters within 90 days of a federal election unless the voter has died, been convicted of a felony or been declared mentally incapacitated. That means naturalized citizens should not be removed from the voter rolls because of citizenship inquiries after Aug. 10.

If you’re concerned about your voter registration, you can verify it online here.

“We would urge folks to do that, you know, well before the Oct. 11 deadline, so that they have plenty of time to fix any issues,” Taylor said.

But if a voter is flagged incorrectly, Taylor said they can still vote if they present proof of citizenship, such as a naturalization certificate or U.S. passport, at the polls.

What if I moved after the voter registration deadline?

You must reside in a Texas county by the voter registration deadline to vote in the upcoming election unless you qualify for absentee voting. You can read more about absentee and mail-in voting here.

If you moved within the same county or political subdivision, you can vote at your previous polling location. Or you can vote at your new polling location on a ballot limited to the elections you would qualify to vote in at both polling locations, such as statewide races. But limited ballots are available only during early voting at a “main early voting polling place,” which is usually the office of the election administrator or county clerk who runs elections in your county. The main early voting polling place should be noted in a county’s list of early voting locations.

Eligible people experiencing homelessness can vote, Taylor said, as long as they provide on their registration an address and description for where they are residing. If needed, their mailing address can be different, he said, but a P.O. box address cannot be listed as a residence address.

What do I do if I run into issues with my voter registration?

If you have questions or concerns about your registration, you can find your county’s voter registration contact here.

Inside polling locations, there are typically “resolution desks” where poll workers can address registration issues.

You can also find more information on frequently asked questions from the secretary of state’s office at votetexas.gov.

What do I need to know about mail-in voting?

How do I know if I’m eligible to vote by mail?  

This option is fairly limited in Texas. You’re allowed to vote by mail only if:

  • You will be 65 or older by Election Day.
  • You will not be in your county for the entire span of voting, including early voting.
  • You cite a sickness or disability that prevents you from voting in person without needing personal assistance or without the likelihood of injuring your health.
  • You’re expected to give birth within three weeks before or after Election Day.
  • You are confined in jail but otherwise eligible (i.e., not convicted of a felony).

College students who are registered at a residence in Texas, such as a parent’s home, but are studying out of state can apply for absentee ballots. Students studying in Texas who are from other states can also choose to register to vote in the state with their dorm or Texas address.

If you are voting absentee, such as from overseas, and want to see what will appear on your ballot, you can get a sample ballot from your county, Taylor said. Ballot information must be certified by Sept. 1, so local ballots should be set by then, he said, and sample ballots can be found on a county’s election website in most cases.

What identification do I need to vote by mail?

The secretary of state’s office is reminding voters to provide an ID number on both their mail-in ballots and carrier envelopes. The Texas Legislature last year created new identification rules for voting by mail that require voters to provide their driver’s license or state ID number or, if they haven’t been assigned those, the last four digits of their Social Security number on both the application for a ballot and the carrier envelope used to return a completed ballot. If they don’t have either number, voters can also indicate they have not been issued that identification.

More than 24,000 Texans lost their votes in the March primary because roughly 12.4% of mail-in ballots were rejected under the new voting law. With more primary voters aware of the new requirements, the percentage of rejected mail-in ballots fell to less than 4% during the May runoffs, Taylor said. But fewer voters participated in the runoff elections, which had a combined turnout of about 8%, according to the secretary of state’s office. That’s compared with the nearly 18% turnout for the primaries in March.

Ahead of the March primary, hundreds of voters’ applications for mail-in ballots were also rejected, in some cases because they provided a license number that the state didn’t have on file. The secretary of state has suggested contacting your local voter registrar to ask about how to add one of the required numbers to your voter registration record.

Other voting advocates suggest voters include both their driver’s license or state ID number and the last four digits of their Social Security number, if they have both, to avoid issues.

Does lack of immunity to COVID-19 qualify as a disability during the pandemic?

While a lack of immunity to COVID-19 alone does not allow a voter to request a ballot based on disability, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that it was up to voters to decide if that lack of immunity, combined with their medical history, meets the state’s eligibility criteria.

Take note that the Texas election code’s definition for disability is broader than other federal definitions. A voter is eligible to vote by mail if they have a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents them from voting in person without the likelihood of “needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.” It’s up to the voter to decide this, and election officials don’t have the authority to question a voter’s reasoning.

What kind of postage do I need to return my mail-in ballot?

It depends on where you live. Postage for mail-in ballots will vary by county because the style and size of the ballot could be different from county to county — and some counties may pay postage for you. Local elections offices should have the specifics once ballots are finalized. That said, if you don’t have enough postage, your ballot is not supposed to be returned to you. Instead, the Postal Service is supposed to deliver the ballot and bill the county for the insufficient or missing postage.

What if there’s an issue with my mail-in ballot?

Texas will allow voters to correct their mail-in ballots if the ballots are at risk of being rejected for a technical error, including missing information or signatures. This also applies to issues with the applications for those ballots. County officials are responsible for alerting voters if there is a defect with their application or ballot.

Voters can use a new online ballot tracker to check the status of both their application to vote by mail and their ballot. The tracker can also be used to make corrections. You can access the tracker here. The deadline to correct mail-in ballots is Nov. 14.

What do I need to know about going to the polls?

How can I find which polling places are near me?

County election offices are supposed to post on their websites information on polling locations for Election Day and during the early-voting period by Oct. 18. The secretary of state’s website will also have information on polling locations closer to the start of voting. However, polling locations may change, so be sure to check your county’s election website before going to vote.

What form of ID do I need to bring?

You’ll need one of seven types of valid photo ID to vote in Texas:

  • A state driver’s license (issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety).
  • A Texas election identification certificate (issued by DPS).
  • A Texas personal identification card (issued by DPS).
  • A Texas license to carry a handgun (issued by DPS).
  • A U.S. military ID card with a personal photo.
  • A U.S. citizenship certificate with a personal photo.
  • A U.S. passport.

Check out this story for more details.

What if I don’t have a valid photo ID?  

Voters can still cast votes if they sign a form swearing that they have a “reasonable impediment” from obtaining a proper photo ID. However, those voters will also have to present one of the following types of supporting identification documents:

  • A valid voter registration certificate.
  • A certified birth certificate.
  • A document confirming birth admissible in a court of law that establishes your identity (which may include a foreign birth document).
  • A copy of or an original current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other document that shows the voter’s name and address. (Any government document that contains a voter’s photo must be an original.)

If you have a valid photo ID but forgot it, you can cast a provisional ballot but will have to visit the local voter registrar’s office within six days of the election to present an acceptable ID or documentation in order for the ballot to be counted. A registered voter without a valid photo ID or any of the supporting documents can also cast a provisional ballot.

What does the pandemic mean for voting in this election?

You may see many of the same precautions we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years, including hand sanitizer and regular cleaning.

In counties with electronic machines where voters make their selections before printing out paper ballots, voters may receive finger protectors, known as finger cots.

“They’re not required, but a lot of counties do make them available to their voters to make them feel more comfortable about touching those voting machine screens that other people have touched,” Taylor said.

Poll workers may be wearing face masks and other protective equipment, but masks are not required for voters, though federal health officials still recommend wearing masks in indoor public places in areas with high transmission rates.

What if I was planning to vote in person, but I have been diagnosed with COVID-19?  

If you have contracted COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms, consider requesting an emergency early voting ballot or using curbside voting.

Emergency ballot: These ballots can be requested if you become sick or disabled close to an election and are unable to go to a polling place on Election Day. To qualify, you must designate a representative to submit an application in person on your behalf and have a certified doctor’s note. The application must be received by your county’s early voting clerk before 5 p.m. on Election Day.

Your ballot must be returned by the same designated representative before 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. Contact your county elections office for more details about an emergency early-voting ballot due to sickness or disability.

Curbside voting: You can also contact your county elections office to determine if you’re eligible for curbside voting, which must be made available at every polling place for voters with disabilities unable to enter a polling location. Some counties have designated parking spots for curbside voters, while others use a doorbell-like system so poll workers know to bring out a portable voting machine.

How can I make sure my ballot is counted?

How do I know if my provisional ballot was counted?

If you voted through a provisional ballot because of an administrative issue or photo ID problem, you should receive a notice by mail letting you know if your ballot was counted by the 10th day after the local canvass, which is the official tallying of votes.

The official tallying of votes at the local level can take place from Nov. 11-22, according to the state’s election law calendar, so these notices must be mailed by Dec. 2.

What about regular ballots?

Voters can also check with their county election officials to see whether their vote was counted, Taylor said.

“If you’re a registered voter, you can contact your county to confirm whether or not they have voting history for you,” he said.

Counties must electronically report voter history to the secretary of state within 30 days of the election (Dec. 8), and the deadline for the state’s official tally is Dec. 12.

What voter data is public?

Voter history, or whether a person voted in an election, is public. This includes primary election history, during which voters have to pick either the Republican or Democratic primary. But who you voted for is not public record.

“Ballots are anonymous,” Taylor said. “However, the fact that you did vote, and that your ballot counted, that is public information.”

Alexa Ura contributed to this story.

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.