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Friday, October 23, 2020

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Mail-in voting requirements remain unchanged amid coronavirus concerns


Texas residents looking to vote by mail must meet specific eligibility requirements in order to qualify. | Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Amid ongoing concerns about the safety of in-person voting because of the coronavirus pandemic, Texas will uphold mail-in voting eligibility requirements for the 2020 presidential election.

Under the Texas Election Code, a voter applying to cast their ballot early by mail must be 65 years of age or older, disabled, outside of the county on Election Day and during the early voting period or be confined to jail, but otherwise eligible to vote. 

The list of mail-in voting exceptions does not include provisions for the coronavirus pandemic, making Texas one of just six states that has yet to expand mail-in voting to include voters worried about exposure to COVID-19 at polling stations. 

“We would love to see more efforts to encourage vote-by-mail here in Texas,” College Democrats president Blake McNeill said. “This is made enormously difficult due to the archaic rules and regulations imposed on mail-in voting by the state legislature.” 

Citing concerns over increased voter fraud, Texas’ highest ranking Republican officials have combated efforts to expand mail-in voting. 

State Attorney General Ken Paxton has engaged in legal battles on state and federal fronts to prevent mail-in voting expansion, while Gov. Greg Abbott requested that the Supreme Court reject Texas Democrats’ request to allow all voters the chance to vote by mail in the midst of the pandemic. 

Abbott has explicit authorization to alter aspects of election administration as an exercise of “emergency powers,” according to Ballotpedia. While he has issued a proclamation to extend the early voting period for the Nov. 3 election by nearly a week, Abbott has not increased flexibility regarding mail-in ballots.

Regardless whether an individual will vote by mail or in person, they must be registered to vote in Texas.

Those who are eligible to register under state guidelines must mail their voter registration application at least 30 days before the election date. It is unclear how service cuts to the U.S. Postal Service could cause delays in the reception of these applications. 

Students who want to get registered to vote can pick up an application from their county voter registrar’s office. College Democrats and College Republicans will also offer voter registration services digitally and on campus in the upcoming semester.

“We have been very successful registering voters in the past, particularly during the primary cycle,” McNeill said. “Registering people to vote is always a top priority for our organization; however, the current global health situation has made this more difficult … we have focused on registering as many people digitally as we can.” 

College Republicans will also use multimedia tools to inform students about voting. 

“I am working on creating infographics for us to post online on information on how to vote,” recruitment director of College Republicans Tamon Hamlett said. “I also personally gathered volunteers … to sign up to become an election clerk so that we can assure that we have enough staff to maintain a polling location at UH…” 

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