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Early voting has started in Texas. Here are your rights at the polls

Voting.JPG
Annie Mulligan
/
The Texas Tribune
A voter casts her ballot at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center in Houston on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.

Early voting runs from Monday, Oct. 24, to Friday, Nov. 4. The last day to apply to vote by mail is Friday, Oct. 28. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Early voting for the 2022 midterm elections is here. Texans can head to the polls to cast their votes for various state, congressional and local elected officials.

Not sure what’s on your ballot? You can use our lookup tool to see your state and federal elections. You can also get a sample ballot from your county. Here are some more tips for navigating local elections.

Early voting runs from Monday, Oct. 24, to Friday, Nov. 4. The last day to apply to vote by mail is Friday, Oct. 28. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

But before you head to the polls, you should know you have rights as a voter and there are certain rules in place at voting locations about what you can bring and wear. You also need an approved photo ID to vote in person.

Where do I go to vote?

During early voting, voters can cast ballots at any polling location in the county where they are registered to vote. On Election Day, some counties may require you to vote at a location specific to your precinct, which can be found on your voter registration certificate or by checking your registration online.

You can find a list of counties where voters can vote at any county polling location on Election Day from the Texas secretary of state’s office.

Check your county elections website for early-voting times and locations and Election Day locations. You can find yours here. But you may want to consider calling election officials to make sure polling locations haven’t changed.

“It’s also important to check in advance and call ahead to make sure that the polling location is open,” said Edgar Saldivar, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “There’s been cases where sometimes they close the polling location for different reasons, so you might have to go somewhere else.”

You can also use the secretary of state’s website to see Election Day polling locations, but your county’s information will be the most up to date. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8.

If you need transportation to a voting location, the rideshare company Lyft will be providing discounted rides on Election Day. Voters can get a VOTE22 code ahead of time to get a discount of up to $10 on Nov. 8. The discount code will be available to use during voting hours, and voters can also use it for bikeshare and scooter rides.

What are the rules at the polls?

There are usually traffic cones or markers 100 feet from the entrance of a polling place. That’s because cellphones, cameras, computers and other devices that can record sound or images cannot be used within 100 feet of voting stations (where ballots are marked). Election officers may require voters to deactivate their phones once inside the polling location.

Campaigning is also forbidden within those 100 feet, which means voters cannot wear clothing or other items that publicize candidates, political parties or measures on the ballot. Items publicizing past candidates and measures not currently on the ballot are OK.

What do I need to vote?

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.

Student IDs are not accepted. If you don’t have an approved photo ID, you can still vote by signing a “reasonable impediment” form and presenting valid supporting identification documents, such as a certified birth certificate, your voter registration certificate or a current utility bill with your name and address.

If you forget your ID, you can cast a provisional ballot, which can be counted only if you provide the required photo ID or documents within six days. Read more about photo IDs here.

What rights do I have as a voter?

If a registered voter’s name does not appear on the list of registered voters because of an administrative issue, they have the right to cast a provisional ballot.

Voters are entitled to get written instructions about how to cast a ballot or to ask a polling place officer or worker (but not about who or what to vote for).

If a voter makes a mistake while marking their ballot, they have a right to use up to two additional ballots to make corrections.

Voters with disabilities or limited English proficiency can also get interpretation , assistance or accommodations to vote.

Voters generally have the right to cast their ballots in secret and should not be subject to intimidation.

Texas law says voters have the right to vote during work hours without being penalized or losing pay, but this may not apply if a worker has two hours before or after work to go vote.

On Election Day, voters have the right to cast their ballot as long as they’re in line by 7 p.m.

How can I get accessibility or language accommodations?

In Texas, a voter with a disability is a voter with 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.” A voter does not need to prove their disability to election officials or workers and cannot be turned away.

All polling locations in Texas must meet accessibility standards, including entrances and exits at least 32 inches wide and accessible curbs and stairs. Each location usually has at least one type of accessible voting equipment to accommodate voters, but you may want to check.

Voters unable to enter a polling location can also request curbside voting, but they may want to call and give the election officials a heads-up.

Voters can also choose an individual to help them with interpretation and completing their ballot at the polls. This can be a family member, friend or someone else, as long as the person is not the voter’s employer or a representative of their union.

Under new requirements passed by the Texas Legislature, a person assisting a voter must take an oath promising to not “pressure or coerce” a voter and must disclose their relationship to the voter along with their name and address.

A separate oath is also required for providing interpretation.

The person assisting the voter must read the entire ballot to voters, unless the voter asks them to read only specific sections.

A voter may also be assisted by poll workers. If a voter needs sign language interpretation and does not have a person of their choice to help them, it is recommended they call their election officials ahead of time to request assistance.

Read more about assistance and accommodations from the Texas secretary of state’s office here.

What are poll watchers, and what can they do?

Poll watchers are registered voters allowed into polling places and central vote-counting stations to observe election activity and report seen or suspected irregularities.

They are appointed by a candidate, party or a political action committee in support or opposing a ballot measure but cannot be a candidate, elected official, or an employee or relative of an election officer overseeing the same polling place. They must take an online course from the secretary of state outlining their rights and limitations and wear a name tag indicating they are a poll watcher while at a polling location.

Poll watchers are entitled to “sit or stand near enough to see and hear the election officers” carry out election activities, but they cannot audit, obstruct or intervene in elections. This means they cannot talk to voters and may talk to poll workers about the election only to report an irregularity.

In most cases, poll watchers cannot observe a voter casting their ballot, including if the voter is receiving assistance from a person of their choice.

If a voter is assisted in voting by poll workers, poll watchers can observe that process, according to state election code. They can also request translations “of any language spoken other than English between an election official and a voter,” according to the secretary of state’s training course.

Last year, the state Legislature increased the autonomy of poll watchers by granting them free movement. Voting rights advocates and others opposed the changes, pointing to room for confusion and possible voter intimidation. But Saldivar, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said this should not stop voters because generally “instances of voter harassment and intimidation are extremely rare.”

“People should make every effort to go vote,” he said. “And even if they were to experience or see any of that, there are ways to handle that.”

María Méndez reports for Texas Public Radio from the border city of Laredo where she covers business issues from an area that is now the nation’s top trade hub. She knows Texas well. Méndez has reported on the state’s diverse communities and tumultuous politics through internships at the Austin American-Statesman, The Texas Tribune and The Dallas Morning News. She also participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program while studying at the University of Texas at Austin. At UT, she wrote for The Daily Texan and helped launch diversity initiatives, including two collaborative series on undocumented and first-generation college students. One of her stories for these series won an award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She spent the last year reporting for The Dallas Morning News as a summer breaking news intern and then as a fellow in the paper’s capital bureau in Austin. She is a native of Guanajuato in Central Mexico.