Tackling Texas' vote-by-mail system: Applying, delivering, tracking your ballot

Oct. 23 is the last day Texas voters can apply for a vote-by-mail ballot. (Courtesy Pexels)
Oct. 23 is the last day Texas voters can apply for a vote-by-mail ballot. (Courtesy Pexels)

Oct. 23 is the last day Texas voters can apply for a vote-by-mail ballot. (Courtesy Pexels)

With early voting in full swing and Election Day on the horizon, Texas voters have the option to vote in a variety of ways depending on where they live.

Texas voters requesting to apply for a ballot by mail must do so by Oct. 23. In Texas, voters are eligible to vote by mail if they are 65 years or older, sick or disabled, will be out of the county on Election Day and during early voting, or are confined to jail, according to the Texas secretary of state office's website.

A vote-by-mail application must be received by the county's early-voting clerk by 5 p.m. Oct. 23 through residential mail via the U.S. Postal Service, common or contract carrier, fax—if a fax machine is available in the early-voting clerk's office—or email, according to the secretary of state's website.

To email an application, voters must scan the completed and signed application and email it to the early-voting clerk's office by 5 p.m. Oct. 23. Additionally, applications submitted by fax or email must also be mailed to the early-voting clerk's office.

The original, hard copy of the application must be mailed and received by the early-voting clerk no later than the fourth business day after it was originally submitted, per the secretary of state's website. For example, if a voter emails the scanned application Oct. 23, the hard copy of the application must reach the clerk's office no later than Oct. 28, according to the secretary of state's office.

Voters can visit the secretary of state's website for mailing addresses, fax numbers and email addresses of early-voting clerks to send vote-by-mail applications.

Voting by mail

Before filling out the ballot either by mail or in person, election officials recommend voters review a sample ballot online.

Elizabeth Lewis, the administrator for communications and voter outreach with the Harris County Clerk's Office, said voters in Harris County can enter their street address online at harrisvotes.com/sampleballots to review their unique, personalized sample ballot. Mail ballots are specific to each voter and include the races the voter is eligible to participate in.

There are several things voters should remember when filling out mail-in ballots. According to the Harris County Clerk's Office and the secretary of state's office:

  • Voters often forget to sign their carrier envelope before returning their ballot by mail. To avoid this, voters should take extra time and care to sign their carrier envelope where indicated before returning their mail ballot.

  • Voters should try to use black or blue ink on the mail-in ballot. Election officials will still accept mail-in ballots written with other colors, but officials said blue and black ink are easier for the ballot machine to read.

If there are any issues with the mail-in ballots, voters will be contacted directly, said Roxanne Werner, the director of community relations for the Harris County Clerk's office, via email. Harris County voters who need assistance or have questions can call 713-755-6965 for general election assistance.

Sending or dropping off the ballot

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by 7 p.m. Nov. 3 and received no later than 5 p.m. Nov. 4 to be counted. Every county has an elections office that receives the mail-in ballots.

Texas voters also have the option to hand-deliver their mail-in ballot to a designated election's office during early voting and Election Day. Voters must hand-deliver their own ballot in a carrier envelope and bring an acceptable form of identification.

Various Texas counties, including Harris and Travis counties, prepared to open multiple early-voting offices ahead of the November election; however, the efforts were shut down by Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

As of Oct. 22, all Texas counties have only been allowed one location to hand deliver mail-in ballots. Stay up to date on Community Impact Newspaper's coverage of this legal battle here.

Tracking a mail ballot

The state of Texas does not have a statewide ballot tracking system, although it does offer ballot tracking for a limited population, including overseas voters and military personnel.

However, some Texas counties—such as Harris, Travis and Bexar counties—have implemented their own tracking systems to allow voters to track their ballot online from beginning to end.

"We implemented for the first time ever a ballot tracking system where you can track every step of that journey," Lewis said. "Voters can see when we receive your application, when it is in the queue to be printed, when we have mailed it and so on."

Voters can visit harrisvotes.com/tracking and enter their name, date of birth and last four digits of their Social Security number or Texas ID number to track their application and mail-in ballot.
By Kelly Schafler

Managing editor, South Houston

Kelly joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in June 2017 after majoring in print journalism and creative writing at the University of Houston. In March 2019, she transitioned to editor for the Lake Houston-Humble-Kingwood edition and began covering the Spring and Klein area as well in August 2020. In June 2021, Kelly was promoted to South Houston managing editor.