What you need to know before heading to the polls in Texas

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Tuesday, November 3, 2020
What you need to know before heading to the polls in Texas
Can you wear a mask to the polls? Don't worry. If you want to know what to expect when heading to the polls on Election Day amid a pandemic, hit play to get informed.

Whether you're a first-time voter or you've taken trips to the polls several times, there are a few things to remember that can help make the experience a smooth one.

What to know before you go:

Know if you're registered to vote

Check your voter status on VoteTexas.org under the link, "Am I Registered."

You have to be registered 30 days before Election Day in order to vote. The last day for voter registration in Texas was Oct. 5.

Don't forget your photo ID or alternative ID allowed by law

There are seven different types of photo identification you can show. If you don't have one, you can apply for an Election Identification Certificate.

  • Texas driver license
  • Texas personal identification card issued by DPS
  • Texas election identification certificate issued by DPS
  • Texas handgun license issued by DPS
  • U.S. military ID card with photograph
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. citizenship certificate containing your photo

Don't have a photo ID? You can still cast your votes if you sign a form swearing that you have a "reasonable impediment" from obtaining a proper photo ID. Voters must also have one of the following:

  • A valid voter registration certificate
  • A certified birth certificate
  • A document confirming birth admissible in a court of law which establishes your identity (which may include a foreign birth document)
  • A copy of or an original current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other documents that shows the voter's name and address. (Any government document that contains a voter's photo must be an original.)

SEE ALSO: How you can earn $17 an hour by working the polls this election season

A lot of companies are even giving employees the day off for Election Day and are encouraging them to work at the polls this year.

Know where to go

Registered and eligible voters may vote at ANY polling location located in the county of residence for most of the state of Texas. Whether you are at home, work, or out running errands, you will be able to find a polling place near you.

For more information on your county's guidelines and polling locations near you, visit VoteTexas' "Where to Vote" page.

Along with your voter card, you can take written or printed material with you when you vote

However, if you have notes on an electronic device (cell phones, tablets), you won't be able to access them.

If you have special needs, you can be assisted by anyone you choose as you vote

You do not need to give a medical explanation or proof of illness or disability.

Do I need a mask?

Technically, no. Because of COVID-19, voting might be a little different this year but Gov. Greg Abbott's mandate to wear a mask does not apply to polling places.

If you have concerns about getting sick at the polls, the Texas Secretary of State's office has provided a checklist of health protocol. Some of the things on the checklist include:

  • Staying six feet apart from others
  • Self screen for COVID-19 before going out to the polls
  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you may want to consider utilizing curbside voting, to the extent you meet the eligibility requirements, which is available at all polling locations.
  • Bring your own hand sanitizer
  • Wash or disinfect hands after any interaction with election workers, poll watchers, or other individuals

You can vote by mail

You'll just need to meet certain qualifications including being at least 65 years old, disabled, in jail but eligible otherwise or you'll be out of the county on Election Day.

The deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned to the county is Election Day, which is Nov. 3. If your ballot is postmarked by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, they will be counted if they're received by the county on Nov. 4 by 5 p.m.

Find the application for a ballot by mail on the Texas Secretary of State website.

You can take your absentee ballot to a designated ballot drop-off location

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, you can drop your absentee ballot off at a drop-off box as opposed to sending it in the mail for the 2020 Presidential Election.

Harris County voters can drop off mail-in ballots at Gate 8 at NRG between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. with a valid I.D.

Gov. Abbott has allowed each Texas county one ballot drop off location.

No time limit

You can take as long as you want when you vote. The ballot does not time out or expire.

Know your ballot

You can view a sample ballot with contests and candidates.

You can mark your preferences, print the ballot and take it with you. Just make sure no one else can see it.

RELATED: 13 Investigates low voter turnout in Houston-area districts

Who can I call for help?

Harris County has a hotline for questions or concerns: 713-755-6965.

You can report voting rights abuses to the Texas Secretary of State: 1-800-252-8683. It is advised you try to work out the issue with the election judge on site before you call.

You can also try the nation's largest and longest-running nonpartisan voter help hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Note that the hotline is reporting a surge of calls.

In October 2020 alone, they received 135,000 voter calls compared to 120,000 the entire 2016 cycle.

Texas is among three states recording the highest call volume.

Pennsylvania - 17,800 calls

Florida - 14,900 calls

Texas - 5,100 calls

Here's what NOT to do at the polls:

Don't bring your gun

Even with the passage of open carry laws in the Lone Star State, Texas Penal Code prohibits voters from bringing their firearms into their polling place. The only exemption is if you are a police officer, regardless of whether you are on or off duty.

Don't take a selfie or photo of your ballot

In Texas, cell phones and other devices are banned for use within 100 feet of voting stations. Make sure to turn off all your electronic devices before you go in to vote or leave them in your car. This includes:

  • Cell phones
  • Cameras
  • Tablets
  • Laptop computers
  • Sound recorders

Don't wear campaign T-shirts

Buttons, T-shirts and other swag with your favorite candidate's name or political party is not only a big no-no when you go to vote, it's actually a crime. A violation of this provision of the Texas Election Code is a Class C misdemeanor!

SEE ALSO: 'Your Voice, Your Vote: Get answers about voting in the 2020 election

Not all of Harris County's registered voters will ultimately qualify. Texas is among a handful of states with strict eligibility requirements to vote by mail.

Don't try to influence the vote

Under the same provision, it is a violation to participate in any electioneering activities short of the 100-foot distance markers posted outside the polling place. This means handing out literature, posting signs, and expressing preference for or against any candidate, measure or political party.

Don't hang around after your vote is cast

While non-disruptive exit polling is permitted within the 100-foot boundary, election judges have the power to determine whether someone is in violation of the Texas Penal Code's provisions on loitering and breaching the peace.

Don't circulate petitions for your pet causes

You might be tempted to use the flow of voters coming out of your polling place to benefit a cause or candidate in a future election, but you might be found in violation of the election code's loitering provision if you are too close. If you do try to get petition signatures, make sure you are beyond the 100-foot distance markers.

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