If you are looking to vote by mail in the November election, Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis said the earlier you apply, the better.
In Williamson County, a registered voter can request a ballot by mail if they are 65 years of age or older, are sick or disabled, expect to be absent from the county for the entire voting period or are confined in jail but otherwise eligible to vote.
But eligible voters must also apply to receive a mail-in ballot, Davis said.
Applications are annual and do not need to be completed per election, but if you have not completed one yet this year, Davis said if you want to ensure you receive your ballot on time, it is best to apply now. A request for ballot must be received by the elections office at least 11 days prior to the election, according to the county website. This year that is Oct. 23.
“We found on our end that because there were so many people applying for voter by mail for the first time that they weren’t sure how to correctly complete an application,” Davis said.
Davis said his office sent out a 7,580 ballots for the July election—which only hosted Democratic races—even though the office received more than 10,000 applications. While some were duplicates, Davis said others were incorrectly completed.
On July 14, Williamson County held a primary runoff election postponed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic. If a voter requested a mail-in ballot for the election but did not select a party, Davis said they did not receive a ballot.
Davis said since the county received thousands of ballot-by-mail requests, parsing through to see if each applicant who did not select a party intended to vote in the July election would have been a task not worth the resources, Davis said.
“It’s an issue we see every two years because that's when primary and primary runoffs happen,” Davis said.
Davis added if voters are filling out the applications for the first time this year for the November election, party affiliation does not have to be selected, as everyone receives the same ballot with all of the candidates of each party. But party affiliation is important during the primary and primary runoffs, which may have caused some issues in the last election.
This happened to Georgetown resident Stan Schwartz, who noticed that he never received a mail-in ballot for the July election. When he called to see what the issue was, he was informed that his ballot was incomplete.
Schwartz then had to vote in person to ensure his vote was counted. And even though there were some frustrations when it came to voting in this past election, Schwartz said it would not deter him from casting a ballot.
“You know if you are from my generation, you’re always told that your right and obligation is to vote, so I always did since I was 18,” Schwartz said.
It may also take time—even up to two weeks—before ballots are returned to the elections office, so it is best to get your ballot in the mail as early as possible, Davis said.
Leander voter Ericka Lamanna ran into this problem during the July election. Lamanna said she sent in an application to vote by mail for her and her husband. She said she sent the application three days ahead of the deadline but that the voting clerk said the office did not receive it until four days after the deadline—a week later.
She added she received a denial letter the next day, only 24 hours after the election office mailed the letter.
Lamanna said she was confused how a letter mailed to travel 11 miles took several days to get to the elections office, yet when the office sent a letter in return, it is received the next day.
“If you’re going to mail in your ballots, I’d definitely put a tracking number on it,” Lamanna advised. “Even if it gets there after the fact, you can’t do anything about it, but you at least know who to blame.”
Davis said his office works closely with the area postal service to ensure mail is sent as efficiently as possible, as the postal service is trained to know what election ballots and mail looks like, but when it is received it is not always the case.
Since individuals can send in an application in any mail form, it is likely much more difficult to identify and prioritize, Davis said.
For the November election, marked ballots must be received by the elections office by 5 p.m. on Election Day as long as it is postmarked on or before Election Day, according to the county website. The carrier envelope of the marked ballot must also be signed, it said.
“We’re still encouraging folks if they feel that they are in a situation that voting in person will be harmful, vote-by-mail is an option for them, but they need to apply early,” Davis said. “The sooner we have applications, the sooner we can process them, the sooner we can have them on the list ready to be fulfilled as soon as that ballot it ready.”
When Lamanna called the office to see the issue with her ballot, she was informed there was also a drive-up option to vote that she still had time to take advantage of, something that has been around for decades by law, Davis said.
Davis said while the initial purpose of the drive-up voting is for those with a disability, with the pandemic, it can be used by anyone who feels unsafe to enter the building. And while he said he anticipates the option to be used more in the coming November election than ever before, he warned voters to not think of it as a way of saving time—adding it actually takes longer due to the several trips in and out of the building the poll worker must take.
“[Curbside voting is] not meant to be just a time saver because often times, the way it is done now, it is not,” Davis said.
Davis also suggests voting early, if possible, as he anticipates the November election to have a high turnout.
“We anticipating 70%-75% of all registered voters [in November], and right now that is about 250,000 voters,” Davis said.
Avoid voting-by-mail mishaps by submitting application, ballot early for November election
Williamson County election officials recommend you submit your vote-by-mail application sooner rather than later. (Chance Flowers/Community Impact Newspaper)