Making Democracy Work

Voting by Mail

Where can I find out about voting by mail during the pandemic?

Texas Vote by Mail Lawsuits

Two lawsuits have been brought challenging the interpretation of the Texas statute that limits the right to vote by mail. The suit that has been brought in federal court is currently awaiting appeal. The suit that was brought in state court was decided by the Texas Supreme Court on May 27, 2020. Until both cases have been finally resolved, the matter of who can vote by mail is somewhat up in the air. At the moment, the ruling of the Texas Supreme Court is in effect.

The Texas Election Code (Section 82.02) defines disability as "a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health [emphasis added]."

Plaintiffs in the lawsuits argue that in-person voting by persons who are not immune to COVID-19 is likely to injure the voter's health, and that therefore, persons who are at risk should be permitted to vote by mail under the definition of disability in the Texas statute.

While the Texas Supreme Court ruled On May 27, 2020, that a voter cannot vote by mail merely because they lack immunity to COVID-19, the Court said a voter can take into account their health history in deciding whether they have a physical condition that presents a likelihood that they will injure their health by voting in person. The Court made clear that voters must ultimately make this determination for themselves. It further clarified that county election officials do not investigate the reason behind why a voter marks the disability box.

Who May Vote by Mail

According to the Texas Secretary of State's website, "Only specific reasons entitle a registered voter to vote early by mail (no longer called absentee voting). You may request a ballot by mail if you:

  • will be away from your county on Election Day and during the hours that early voting is conducted;
  • are sick or disabled;
  • are 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or
  • are confined in jail."

Applying to Vote by Mail

If one of these four reasons applies to you (and you are not ineligible to register to vote), you can request an Application for Ballot by Mail (ABBM) from the Early Voting Clerk in your county, or you can print an ABBM directly from the Texas Secretary of State's office (PDF), (Spanish version (PDF).

If you are eligible to vote by mail, you may apply each year beginning on January 1st, and should receive ballots for all elections held that year. If you do not apply at the beginning of the year, be sure to apply prior to the deadline to request an ABBM form prior to the first election you want to vote in that year. Read the instructions carefully, fill out the application, and return it to your county Early Voting Clerk. They will then mail you your ballot.

If you do not have a printer, you can fill out an application online at Register2Vote.org. They will then mail you your completed application form and a stamped, addressed envelope. Sign the form and mail it in. There is no cost to the applicant.

Once you've received your ballot, fill it out and return it to your county Early Voting Clerk in time to arrive on or before Election Day.

REMEMBER: Mail your ballot in early enough to arrive in the office of the early voting clerk by Election Day, or by 5:00 the day after Election Day if postmarked by 7:00 on Election Day, or your vote will not be counted.