Mail-in ballots allow residents to vote through the United States Postal Service without having to show up in person to the polls, whether for early voting or Election Day. In Texas, voting by mail is restricted to those age 65 and older, those who are disabled, those who are outside the county throughout the voting period or those who are in jail but otherwise eligible to vote.
Residents must apply, with a signature, to receive a mail-in ballot. If approved, they then receive a ballot, which they must return by mail by Election Day. Ballots received Nov. 4 will still be counted so long as they are postmarked by no later than Nov. 3, Williams said.
The only exception is those in certain circumstances, such as soldiers or workers overseas. They have until Nov. 9 to return their ballots, Williams said, but the county does not normally receive a significant amount of mail-in ballots after Election Day. Most times, voters by mail try to get their ballots mailed quickly, she said.
Mail-in ballots are held in locked cans at the county until the Signature Verification Board meets. This board determines if the signatures on carrier envelopes in which mail-in ballots are held match the signatures of the mail-in ballot applicants. Those that do not are rejected, and the county contacts those voters to let them know, Williams said.
"There is no way for them to come back and fix it," she said.
Mail-in ballots approved by the board are then sent to the Early Voting Ballot Board, which opens up the carrier envelopes to remove and separate the secrecy envelopes inside, which hold the ballots. This separation is done for voters' privacy; by separating the signed carrier envelopes from the secrecy envelopes that carry the ballots, it is impossible to determine which residents voted for which candidates, Williams said.
Sometimes, the county receives ballots that were not put in secrecy envelopes. These are still counted, Williams said, though those who separate them may know who the resident voted for.
"If they don’t put it in the secrecy envelope, it’s fine. That’s just for their privacy," she said.
Mail-in ballots are then scanned, but state law dictates that they cannot be tallied until Election Day, Williams said.
Mail-in ballots are received on a daily basis, but the county likely will not start scanning ballots until Oct. 27, she said.
On the night of Nov. 3, Galveston County will include in its tallies any mail-in ballots that have been received, approved by the Signature Verification Board and scanned. The county does not know how many ballots will come in after that night, but it likely will be a small amount, Williams said.