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.
Fort Bend County Elections Administrator John Oldham said his office is receiving a variety of inquiries about voting. The nature of those inquiries has evolved due to recent changes to identification requirements and the county changing to countywide rather than district polling though. Now, he said, voters tend to simply be asking if they are registered.
Oldham said Fort Bend County only had one case of attempted voter fraud in the 2016 elections wherein an individual tried to vote twice. The individual claimed that he had voted at one location and then attempted to vote at a second location because he wanted to see if it was possible. More than 267,000 people voted in the county during that election.
Oldham said the Elections Administration does not keep a tally on how many people have used the Reasonable Impediment Declaration form which explains why a prospective voter does not have a valid photo ID.
The county does track the number of provisional votes that it processes, wherein a voter does not have a voter registration on record and their ballot and registration are then reviewed prior to being included in the tally. The county had 644 provisional ballots, only four of which were accepted.
“The only thing we know is how many provisional ballots we have because someone doesn’t have proper ID,” Oldham said. “Most provisionals are due to somebody not being registered at all.”
Oldham encourages all registered voters to participate in the primary elections, rather than just the November elections.
“[You’ll] have more choices on who is going to represent you, so people who choose not to [vote in primaries]really limit their options,” Oldham said.
This election cycle has an unusually high number of prominent open races, with eight Texans in the U.S. House opting not to run for re-election, and more than a dozen in the Texas Legislature doing the same.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, are up for re-election and facing primary challengers. So are Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, all of whom are Republicans.
We’ve compiled an overview of some of the upcoming races, what forms of ID are acceptable 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.
Things work differently on March 6, the day of the primaries, depending on where you live. 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. Montgomery County allows voters to vote at any polling location during early voting, however on Election Day, voters must vote at their assigned polling location. For voters in counties who do not participate in the program, they will have to vote in their specific precinct on election day.
Here are the polling places for Fort Bend County:
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.
Whom 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 and facing 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, including state senator for district 3 and state representative for districts 3, 15 and 16, for Montgomery County. Other local races include county judge, district clerk, county clerk, county treasurer, county commissioner for precincts 2 and 4, and justice of the peace for precincts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
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.
Fort Bend County residents have a variety of positions to vote for on the ballot this March. Incumbent Robert “Bob” Hebert, R-Manvel, is facing KP George, D – Sugar Land, for the office of county judge. The March primaries will establish each candidates sanction by their party, and a final vote will decide the race in November.
Laura Richard is running for reelection as county clerk on the Republican ticket with no opposition. Voters in both the Democratic and Republican primaries will be voting for a variety of justices of the peace and judges. There is only one candidate for Republican party county chairman, Jacey Jetton. Democrats will choose between Cynthia Ginyard and Hazel Dorine Lundy for the party chair position.
Sample ballots for Fort Bend County can be found here: www.fortbendcountytx.gov/index.aspx?page=1813
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.
Community Impact Newspaper and The Texas Tribune have established a partnership to share essential Texas politics and policy updates. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit nonpartisan news organization that informs and engages with Texans about public policy, politics and their government. Learn more at texastribune.org