Original reporting provided by Alex Samuels, reporter at The Texas Tribune. Supplemental reporting provided by R. Hans Miller, reporter at Community Impact Newspaper.
With less than a month until the March 6 primary elections, races across the ballot are starting to heat up. This year, Texas has the earliest primaries in the country.
In 2016, Harris County had 2.2 million registered voters. Of those, 1.3 million voted with more than 953,000 of them voting early. Talk of voter fraud and a court battle over Texas’ 2011 voter ID law may have residents wondering how prevalent voter ID issues are in Harris County.
Following the 2016 election, two Harris County poll workers were convicted of voter fraud according to a statement from the County Clerk’s Office.
“My office found convincing evidence that voter fraud was committed,” Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said in a May 2017 statement. “The evidence was provided to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office who presented the case to a Harris County Grand Jury.”
No evidence of significant voter fraud in the county was found during that election. Statewide, the primary concern seems to be confusion regarding identification requirements, said Dale Blasingame, senior lecturer at Texas State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Blasingame headed Texas State’s “Electionland” coverage, a cooperative effort by Politico and various other journalism organizations to monitor the election for voter suppression and fraud using social media research tools. Most of the issues during the 2016 election that the project found involved voters or poll workers not understanding the state’s voter ID requirements. At the time,Blasingame said most issues were quickly handled once brought to the attention of voting authorities.
“I believe the strength of the electoral process stems from an informed and engaged citizenry,” Stanart said via the county clerk’s website. “Thus, as chief elections officer of Harris County, I strongly encourage all qualified citizens to exercise their right to vote.”
This election cycle has an unusually high number of prominent open races, with eight Texan congressional representatives opting not to run for re-election, and more than a dozen in the state Legislature doing the same.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott are up for re-election and facing primary challengers, as are Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, all of whom are Republicans.
Here is an overview of selected upcoming races, acceptable forms of ID at the polls, and how Texas voters can learn more about the 2018 candidates and races.
How do I know if I’m registered to vote?
The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming primaries has passed (and Texas doesn’t allow voter registration on the day of an election). If you aren’t already registered, you won’t be able to cast a ballot in this year’s primaries.
Don’t know if you’re registered? Check the Texas Secretary of State’s website. All you’ll need to do is enter your full name, birthdate, zip code and the county you live in.
Of note: There’s no way to register online in Texas, but if you want to make sure you’re set for future elections, you can register in person at your county voter registrar’s office or by filling out a voter registration application online, printing it and mailing it to your county’s registrar.
When does early voting start?
Early voting runs from Feb. 20 through March 2.
Where can I cast my ballot and what polling places are near me?
Using the same portal that voters can use to find out if they’re registered, they can also find their polling location options on election day and during the early voting period.
During the early voting period, voters can vote at any location in the county they are registered to vote in, according to secretary of state spokesman Sam Taylor.
Depending on where a voter lives, Election day works differently. Some counties participate in the Countywide Polling Place Program which allows voters to vote at any precinct in their county of registration even on the day of an election. For voters in counties who do not participate in the program, they will have to vote in their specific precinct on election day.
Voters in Harris County must vote in their district on election day. Voters should visit the county elections website to find their polling location, review a sample ballot and verify their voter registration information.
Early voting occurs Feb. 20-23 from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Feb. 24 from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Feb. 25 from 1-6 p.m. and Feb. 26-March 2 between 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Harris County residents who are voting early may do so at any of the polling locations mapped below.
Can I vote for either party?
Yes because Texas is an open-primary state. This means voters can decide every two years whether they’d rather help pick the Republican or the Democratic nominees (or hold out and go to third-party conventions).
Of note: Whatever primary you decide to vote in, you can only vote in that same party’s runoff, if a runoff is held.
What form of ID do I need to bring to the polls?
If you’re confused about what ID to bring to the polls for the 2018 election, you’re probably not alone. The legal wrangling over the state’s requirements has turned rather complicated. Here are the seven types of photo ID that will be accepted at the polls for the primaries:
- A state driver’s license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
- 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 that includes a personal photo
- A U.S. citizenship certificate that includes a personal photo
- A U.S. passport
So, what if I don’t have one of the seven approved forms of ID?
If you have qualifying photo ID, bring it. But if you have not obtained one, you can still cast a ballot.
Voters who do not have any of those documents and cannot “reasonably obtain” them can still cast a vote if they sign a form in which theyswear that they have a “reasonable impediment” from obtaining appropriate identification.
Those voters will also have topresent one of the following types of ID:
- Valid voter registration certificate
- Certified birth certificate
- Copy or original of a 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)
A “reasonable impediment” can include a lack of transportation, disability or illness, family responsibilities or lost or stolen identification, among other things. And election judges may not question a voter about the reasonableness of a claimed impediment.
The “reasonable impediment” declaration forms will be available at each polling location. Voters are not expected to fill them out ahead of time, Taylor said.
Who will I be voting for?
For both parties, the race for U.S. Senate will be at the top of the ballot. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is vying against four other Republicans in his bid for re-election and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is the most well-known of three Democrats aiming to unseat him.
At the state level, nine candidates are crowding the Democratic gubernatorial primary, with the highest-profile being former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Houston entrepreneur Andrew White, son of late Texas Gov. Mark White. And Republican Land Commissioner George P. Bush is running for re-election andfacing three primary challengers including Jerry Patterson, who previously held the job.
Lower on the ballot, all of the seats in the Texas House of Representatives and half of those in the Texas Senate are up for re-election.
In addition, the Republican party of Texas will pose several propositions at the bottom of its primary ballot related to property taxes, E-verify, toll roads, Obamacare and more.
Harris County Republicans will see options for the county clerk, treasurer, school trustees, county commissioners for precincts 2 and 4, multiple justices of the peace and the county and precinct chairpersons for the party. Democrats will have options for those same countywide seats and for their party chairs for their respective precincts and the county.
Incumbent Ed Emmett, R-Houston, is running for reelection, while Linda Hidalgo, D-Houston, is seeking her party’s nomination for the role. Stanart is also running for the county clerk position again, and will be facing one of three Democratic challengers, Diane Trautman of Humble, Gayle Young Mitchell or Nat West, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Both Young Mitchell and West are from Houston.
What would it take for an election to end up in a runoff?
If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the primary (i.e. 50 percent of the votes plus at least one additional vote) the top two vote-getters will compete in a primary runoff on May 22.
With several competitive races with multiple candidates shaping up across the state, it’s likely some will result in runoff elections.
Eight Texans in the U.S. House aren’t running for re-election, which has led to some packed races to replace them, including 18 Republicans and four Democrats running for the seat U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, has held for more than 30 years.
There’s also expected to be competitive Democratic primaries for at least three congressional district seats. Republican U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Pete Sessions of Dallas and Will Hurd of Helotes have emerged as top targets for Democrats in November, and in each district, several Democrats are vying to be their party’s nominee.
How can I learn more about 2018 candidates and races?
The Texas Tribune and Community Impact Newspaper are following the 2018 races closely. Sign up for The Brief from The Texas Tribune for a daily rundown of election and government news in your inbox.
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