Mail Voting

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When Your Home is Your Polling Place
(An Official Publication by the Texas Secretary of State)

Protecting Your Ballot if You Vote by Mail

Voting by mail has been available to elderly and disabled voters in Texas for decades. In recent years, candidates have built well-organized and increasingly aggressive campaigns aimed at this segment of our voting population. Unscrupulous candidates have discovered that many of the legal safeguards designed to protect voters and their ballots are impossible to enforce in the privacy of a voter’s home. Scams designed to manipulate the voting process by gaining access to mail-in ballots are becoming a widespread problem in Texas.

5 Ways to protect your ballot

1. Voting in person may be easier than you think.

You don’t have to stand in long lines on election day. Early voting in person starts 17 days before each election, and ends 4 days before each election. If you can drive or if you have a friend or relative who can drive you, you don’t even have to get out of the car. Call ahead to notify the early voting clerk that you’d like to vote from your car. This procedure is called "curbside voting", and is available to any voter who has difficulty walking or standing for long periods. The election official will bring your ballot to you in your car outside the polling place. This procedure is available during early voting and also on election day. Contact your election official for details. Recent changes in the law require all early and election day polling locations to be physically accessible to disabled voters. Call your election official for information on your particular voting sites.

2. If you do vote by mail, get your application from the early voting clerk, or from the Secretary of State.

You can call the office holding your election and have an application for ballot by mail sent directly to you, or you can call our office and we will send you an application. If you need help filling out the form or mailing it, ask someone you trust. If someone helps you fill out the application, you must provide the assistant's name immediately above your signature on the application.

All applications must be addressed to the early voting clerk. Applications mailed to an address other than the early voting clerk will be rejected.

3. Send your application as early as possible.

You can send your application for a ballot by mail up to two months before an election. This will give you plenty of time to receive your ballot, mark it and mail it back to the early voting clerk. If you don’t get your ballot or some other problem occurs, this will also give you more time to cancel, if possible, and obtain another ballot.

Your Mailing Address: The general rule is that a ballot must be mailed to the address at which you are registered to vote. However, if you are 65 or older or disabled, you may have your ballot sent to a hospital, nursing home or long-term care facility, retirement center, or relative, but you must check the blank on the form indicating which address you are providing.

4. If you need help reading, marking, or mailing your ballot, ask a trusted relative or friend to help you.

Isn't it amazing how pleasant strangers seem to "show up" on your doorstep offering to help you with your ballot right after you've received it in the mail? We recommend you decline this kind of help for several reasons. Some campaigns keep records of voters who vote by mail, and, under public information laws, they can find out that you requested a ballot 72 hours after the ballot is mailed to you. If you give your ballot to be mailed by someone you don't know, it might not be mailed at all. Your ballot will be rejected if a common or contract carrier attempts to deliver it to the elections office from the address of a candidate or a campaign's headquarters. The safety of your vote is best assured by asking someone you know and trust to help you read, mark, or mail your ballot. Remember, you must put your assistant's name and address on the carrier envelope.

5. Know your rights as a voter.

It is our hope that the examples in this publication cover most of the fraudulent tactics you may encounter, but if a situation arises and you don’t know what to do, please call our office. Our legal staff is available toll-free at 1-800-252-VOTE(8683) to advise you on your rights as a voter.

Here are a few examples of situations to look out for:

1. At church last Sunday, a very nice man passed out forms so us folks over 65 could get ballots by mail for the election. We each filled out a form, and he told us he would mail them in for us. He said he would stop by in a few weeks to make sure we got our ballots, and that he would even mail the ballots in for us. Should I let him mail my ballot?

• No. When the person stops by your house, thank him for his thoughtfulness but tell him you’ve already taken care of it. This technique has become a popular ploy to gain access to a voter’s ballot, and then "help" the voter mark the ballot for a certain candidate. The person then takes the ballot to "mail" it for the voter. Ballots marked for the helper’s candidate are mailed, while ballots marked against the candidate are sometimes altered or thrown away. If you need assistance reading or marking the ballot, ask for help from a trusted relative, friend, or neighbor. Then mail the ballot yourself or get someone you trust to do it for you.

2. I am disabled and currently live in a nursing home. I have voted by mail for many years. When my ballot arrives, I have my daughter come over and she reads me my ballot and marks it as I tell her to. This year, one of the employees here at the nursing home helped me fill out the request for my ballot. She told me that this means she is the only one who can help me with my ballot when I receive it. I want my daughter to help me as she always has. Do I have to let the employee help me?

• No. It is your legal right as a voter to select the person of your choice to assist you with your ballot, if you need help. If the employee pressures you, report her to her superiors, and to the District Attorney’s office. Intimidating a voter is a felony offense in Texas. The employees of many nursing homes and residential facilities respect the voting rights of their residents and are careful not to intervene in the voting process unless the voter asks them for help. This example is just an illustration of what could happen when people attempt to use their position to mislead or coerce voters. If you feel that you are being misinformed about your rights as a voter, please call our office for accurate information.

3. Our county has an assistance program that provides surplus goods like flour and butter to those of us who are on food stamps. Every other month, we go down to the community center to get whatever is available. We’ve been hearing a rumor that unless we bring our ballots and turn them in, we will not get any food next time. Can they really cut us out of the program if we refuse?

• No. You cannot be denied any type of public assistance including food stamps, social security, or other benefits you may be entitled to in exchange for your vote or your ballot. This crime should be reported to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

4. A man came to our door yesterday and told us he was with the county elections office. He said the law had changed, and now the county was sending employees out to pick up the ballots. I told him I hadn’t heard about any change like that, and that we weren’t handing over our ballots until I called the county to see what was going on. Can mail ballots be picked up by election officials?

• No. Mail ballots must be MAILED back to the early voting clerk or delivered by a bonafide common or contract carrier; they cannot be picked up. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to con you out of your ballot. Call your elections office or District Attorney to report this illegal activity immediately.

5. One of my neighbors helped elderly people in my neighborhood get ballots by mail. At first she seemed real helpful and friendly, but now that the ballots are here she's turned into an awful pest. One of my friends said this woman wouldn't leave her house until my friend voted the way she told her to. Then, this woman took my friend's ballot with her. My friend lives alone and was scared, so she did what the woman told her. My friend is very upset. She feels as if her vote was stolen. What can she do now?

• Your friend may still be able to vote. First, she should call the office that the ballot is being mailed to. If the early voting clerk has not received her ballot yet, she can cancel her application and vote a different ballot. Her cancellation has to be in writing, and she has to file it before her ballot gets back to the election office.

Published by the
Elections Division of the
Office of the Secretary of State:
P.O. Box 12060 Austin, Texas 78711-2060
http://www.sos.state.tx.us
(512) 463-5650
1-800-252-VOTE(8683)
Fax (512) 475-2811
TDD 1-800-735-2989

This pamphlet is available in large print, audiotape, or computer disc upon request.(Este folleto está disponible en ampliación de foto, cinta magnétic para audio, o disco del ordenador por requerimiento.)

The Office of the Secretary of State does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age or disability in employment or the provision of services. (La Oficina del Secretario de Estado no discrimina por motivos de raza, color, origen nacional, sexo, religión, edad o incapacidad en lo referente a empleos o provisión de servicios).

 


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Important Note: We are not attorneys, nor are we law enforcement.  Nothing on this site should be construed as legal advice. Suspected crimes must be reported to the police, the District Attorney or another lawfully empowered agency.

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