Original reporting provided by Alex Samuels, reporter at The Texas Tribune. Supplemental reporting provided by Hannah Zedaker, reporter at Community Impact Newspaper.
With the March 6 primary elections fast approaching, races across the Montgomery County ballot are starting to heat up. This year, Texas has the earliest primaries in the country.
“In a primary election, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in Texas select their nominees, which will be on the general election ballot in November—that’s the purpose of those candidate races,” said Suzie Harvey, Montgomery County’s elections administrator and voter registrar.
Harvey has served as Montgomery County’s elections administrator and voter registrar since 2011 and has worked for the elections department since 2007. In that time, Harvey said she is unaware of any county-documented voter ID fraud cases.
Harvey said some of the most common questions her office receive from voters relate to the pre-filled voting applications, which campaigns and political parties send to voters, how to apply for a ballot by mail option, information about candidates and to check on his or her voter registration status.
“We can tell them who is on the ballot if they ask or we can mail them a sample ballot if they ask or refer them to our website, but if they want actual information about candidates, of course, we don’t have that and wouldn’t share it,” Harvey said. “So we refer them to their party of interest.”
Harvey also said that no one gets turned away from the polls for a lack of proper ID.
“It’s actually illegal [to turn someone away for lack of proper ID],” she said. “If someone doesn’t have proper ID, a new law for voter ID went into effect Jan. 1 so there’s an alternate remedy for people who can’t reasonably obtain one or have some type of reasonable impediment to obtaining a proper ID.”
That alternate remedy includes filling out a reasonable impediment declaration form and showing an alternate form of documentation or a supporting form of ID, which are listed on the Secretary of State’s website, in addition to Montgomery County Election’s website.
“The first time that was used was in the November 2016 election and there were 270 forms submitted in Montgomery County,” Harvey said. “Then, we didn’t have any until November 2017 and there was only one and it was actually an error on the part of the poll worker. That person should have voted a provisional ballot, but they used the wrong form by mistake.”
Harvey said a provisional ballot is another option for those who may have forgotten to bring proper ID to the polls, however, voters who opt to use a provisional ballot have six days to resolve it, which means they must follow-up with a visit to the elections office.
“It’s very important for people to check in advance to make sure they’re registered [to vote]at the address where they think they’re registered, so they know where they’re supposed to vote if they vote on Election Day,” Harvey said. “It’s also important for them to check their sample ballot in advance so they know what to expect when they head to the polls”
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. Other statewide officials seeking re-election include Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, all of whom are Republicans.
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 Montgomery 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.
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 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.
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?
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