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Texas: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, how to vote by mail, and more.

Thrillist's Texas Voting Guide
Illustration by Grace Han

There is nothing more American than exercising your right to vote. And in a year when both Democrats and Republicans are proclaiming equally (and loudly) that the stakes have never been higher, it’s more important than ever to show up for your country by casting your ballot for President of the United States -- and every other office up for grabs this November 3.
 
Texas has made election security a priority, so you can cast your vote with confidence whether it’s in-person or you’re one of the select few eligible to vote by mail. As dramatic as it may sound, all the power rests in your hands, so do not sit this election out. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about registering to vote, when and where you can vote early, and how to do it all safely.

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Texas?

Monday, October 5 is the deadline to register in-person to vote and the date your application must be postmarked if registering by mail. Requests for ballots by mail must be received by Friday, October 3, but those are only available to registered voters 65 years and older, people with disabilities, or those who will be out of their home county on Election Day and during the entire period for early voting in person. Military and overseas voters are also eligible to vote by mail.

How to register to vote in Texas

To be eligible to vote in Texas, you must be a citizen of the United States, a resident of the county in which you’re registering, and at least 17 years- and 10 months-old at the time of registration and 18 by Election Day. There are a few exceptions related to felony convictions and mental competency, but other than that it’s pretty straightforward.

Though Texas still doesn’t allow online voter registration, you can download and print an application or request one through the mail via VoteTexas.gov. You can also contact your county’s voter registration office to complete the process. If you’re unsure whether you’re registered to vote or not, visit Vote.org to find out in less than 30 seconds. If you’re not already registered, you can also complete the form below (you’ll still have to print, sign, and mail in the form). You will likely see many voter registration drives popping up all over town between now and October 5 where you can register in-person (then follow up online to make sure it was processed).

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Texas?

You can absolutely vote early in Texas. And typically, crowds are smaller during early voting, making it easier to social distance and avoid contact with other voters. The early voting period begins on Tuesday, October 13, and runs through Friday, October 30. You can early vote at any polling place in your county. The dates and hours that polls are open may vary by county, so once again refer to your county’s voter registration office for the latest information.

You can also sign up at Vote.org to receive election reminders via text or e-mail, ensuring you don’t miss the opportunity to cast your ballot.

Can I vote by mail?

No. With the exception of registered voters 65 years and older, people with disabilities, military and overseas voters, or those who will be out of their home county on Election Day and during the entire early voting period, mail-in voting is not an option in Texas.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

The Secretary of State has a comprehensive list of resources regarding COVID-19 safety protocols and elections, which are updated if new information or guidelines are put into place. A detailed list of health protocols for voters can be found here, but by now you probably know the drill. Wear a mask, wash or sanitize your hands upon entry to the polling place, and maintain at least six feet between you and other voters and polling officials. Be aware that you may be asked to lower your mask so that your identity can be confirmed.

Curbside voting is an option for anyone exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms and those with other eligibility requirements, but the process to request curbside may require advance contact with the county election office as detailed in the same document above.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued several safety tips to help voters protect themselves and others. Here's a rundown, per the CDC's official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. 

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Steven Lindsey is a Thrillist contributor.