Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

Texas election roundup: More convention and election delays

Like the elections themselves, political party conventions across the country are struggling to make adjustments under the COVID-19 pandemic. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced today it is postponing the presidential convention in Milwaukee to August 17 from July 13. Joe Biden, who will likely be the party’s nominee, had recently called for party officials to delay the convention over coronavirus concerns.

The Texas Democratic Party has already announced it is moving its June 4 state convention onto a digital platform. The party is expected to announce more information in the coming weeks about how the virtual convention will work.

Back in March, the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) postponed its convention until July 13. It was originally scheduled to be held May 11. Currently the RPT convention is still scheduled as in-person event to be held in Houston. The Republican National Convention is scheduled to be held August 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Many municipal governments across Texas have followed Gov. Greg Abbott’s request to postpone local elections to November 3 that were originally scheduled for May 2. However, some have yet to do so. According to TXElects.com, the cities of Abilene, Irving, Lufkin, Sugar Land, and Tyler are among those that have not postponed their elections.

Texas election roundup: The long delay

Election politics is pretty much in a holding pattern across most of Texas as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Greg Abbott announced late Friday that the primary runoff elections for state and federal offices originally scheduled for May 26 will be postponed until July 14. This is the same date as the special runoff election for Senate District (SD) 14 to replace state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), who announced his retirement from the Texas Legislature earlier this year.

Speaking of the SD 14 race, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt announced this week she will push back her resignation in order to focus on the coronavirus response. Eckhardt had announced plans to resign her office, as she is legally required to do, in order to run for the SD 14 seat. Eckhardt is permitted to serve in her current office until a successor is sworn in, which in this case will be former Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) has also filed to run for the SD 14 seat.

Earlier this month, Gov. Abbott gave local political subdivisions (i.e. city councils, county governments, local school boards, etc.) the ability to postpone their elections to November 3 from their original May 2 uniform election date. According to TXElects.com, only a handful have formally delayed their local elections as of yet. While Georgetown and Fort Bend ISD are among those that have gone ahead and moved their elections, Waco and Waco ISD are considering sticking with the May 2 elections as scheduled. This has apparently created somewhat of a standoff in McLennan County, where the county elections administrator reportedly warned the city and school districts that the county would refuse to conduct the elections in May regardless of their decision.

The delays, coupled with local stay-at-home orders, have radically altered the campaign landscape in Texas. Many campaigns are suspending fundraising operations and focusing on community services. Most have put aside in-person campaigning in order to focus their resources online in order to reach people stuck in their homes. But while activity has ground down, it has certainly not stopped.

As candidates and officeholders continue to try shape their messaging in light of the current health crisis, they may be wise to consider the results of a national poll by Ragnar Research. First reported by the Quorum Report, the poll shows that 88% of Americans view the coronavirus outbreak as either “very serious” or “somewhat serious.” When sorted by political parties, 53% of Republicans said the coronavirus outbreak is “very serious,” compared to 83% of Democrats and 70% of independents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control calls the coronavirus outbreak a “serious public health risk.”

Other political pollsters are also continuing to survey the American public more broadly during this time of national crisis. According to an Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday, 34% believe the country is headed in the right direction, while 54% believe it is on the wrong track. At the same time, 48% of respondents approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, while 46% disapprove. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of recent polls puts President Trump at -2.5% approval, or 47% approve to 49.5% disapprove.

It’s also easy to forget there is still a presidential primary underway to choose the Democrat who will face Donald Trump in the November election. Bernie Sanders won this month’s primary in Utah, while 12 other states and Puerto Rico have postponed their presidential primaries. Connecticut, Indiana, Rhode Island, and Delaware have moved their primary elections to June 2. With Joe Biden building an insurmountable delegate lead in the primary contest, the political forecasters at FiveThirtyEight.com have placed Biden at 98% odds to win the nomination. A Monmouth poll released Tuesday has Biden leading Trump by 3% if the election were held now.

 

Feds announce availability of student testing waivers

The U.S. Department of Education today signaled its willingness to waive federal testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year for students who are impacted by school closures due to the coronavirus outbreak. According to its March 20 press release, the Education Department will waive the requirements for any state that submits a “proper request.” Texas already announced it was waiving state requirements for STAAR testing for the 2019-20 school year and seeking a federal waiver, and today’s announcement by the federal government supports this decision.

According to additional TEA guidance released this week, STAAR assessments in grades 3 through 8 planned or April, May, and June 2020 are cancelled. Student Success Initiative (SSI) requirements for promotion or retention are also waived for the current school year. Districts will be given discretion in deciding whether to promote students to the next grade, with consideration given to teacher recommendations, student grades, and other academic information.

STAAR End-of-Course (EOC) assessments are also waived for the 2019-20 school year. Districts will be allowed to utilize the individual graduation committee (IGC) process to determine graduation eligibility for all five STAAR EOC courses. On Thursday, the agency issued FAQ related to assessments, which you can find here.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

At the federal level, additional relief is on the way for college and university students and those paying off student loans. The Education Department under direction from Secretary Betsy DeVos has suspended interest on all federally held student loans for the next 60 days. Additionally, students will be able to place their loans into forbearance for at least two months. According to the press release: “Secretary DeVos has directed all federal student loan servicers to grant an administrative forbearance to any borrower with a federally held loan who requests one. The forbearance will be in effect for a period of at least 60 days, beginning on March 13, 2020. To request this forbearance, borrowers should contact their loan servicer online or by phone. The Secretary has also authorized an automatic suspension of payments for any borrower more than 31 days delinquent as of March 13, 2020, or who becomes more than 31 days delinquent, essentially giving borrowers a safety net during the national emergency.”

Bloomberg News is also reporting that under federal stimulus legislation currently being considered in the U.S. Senate in response to the outbreak, students could defer student loan payments up to six months. The proposal would also protect existing federal student aid benefits for students who have to withdraw from classes due to the outbreak. As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, ATPE is closely watching the legislative proposals being considered by Congress and will report on any significant developments of interest to educators.

For additional resources for educators dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, visit ATPE’s FAQ and Resources page here.

Texas election roundup: Municipal elections may be postponed

The coronavirus outbreak is affecting everything in Texas, including upcoming municipal elections. These elections for important local positions were originally scheduled for May 2, 2020, but Gov. Greg Abbott this week recommended local political subdivisions postpone their elections until the November 3 general election. The recommendation comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidelines recommending social distancing and avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people.

The Office of the Texas Secretary of State issued a memo this week explaining the process. The May 2 elections are only for local ballot measures and races, such as for city council, school board, or county offices. According to the secretary of state, if a municipality opts to postpone its election to the fall, local elected officials currently in office there would continue to exercise their official duties until after the November uniform election date. The postponement does not reopen candidate filing, so new candidates can’t suddenly enter these races. This also means that candidates on the ballot for May 2 who have filed for a separate race on the November ballot could be on the ballot twice. If a candidate were to win both positions, they would be required to resign one and trigger a new election to fill the vacated position.

It’s important to note that the May 2 municipal elections are completely different from the primary runoff elections scheduled for May 26, 2020. The May 26 runoff elections are to select Democratic and Republican nominees for state and federal offices — such as the Texas Legislature and U.S. Congress — who will face off in the November 3 general election. As of writing this post, the May 26 runoff elections have not been postponed.

The governor set a July 14 date for a special election to fill the open seat of retiring state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) in Texas Senate District (SD) 14. Candidate filing will run from April 29 to May 13. Currently, state Sen. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt have announced plans to run. A number of local city council members have also expressed interest in the race.

Citing concerns over the ability of Texans to be able to participate in a meaningful election during the coronavirus oubreak, the Texas Democratic Party has called for both the May 2 and May 26 elections to be conducted entirely by mail. The League of Women Voters of Texas has asked the governor to promote mail-in ballots already allowed for those over the age of 65, as well as early voting to reduce crowds.

The outbreak will also impact the scheduling of local and statewide party conventions. The Republican Party of Texas announced plans to postpone to July 13 its state convention originally scheduled for mid-May. Party leaders at the local level are also being encouraged to postpone county and senatorial district conventions. The Texas Democratic Party is considering holding its June convention online.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on any additional changes that are made to election plans here in Texas. For general information about the new coronvirus, visit ATPE’s resource page at https://www.atpe.org/en/coronavirus.

Coronavirus and Texas education: Policy implications as of March 16

Here’s a rundown of the latest information we have so far regarding how the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is impacting the public education system in Texas. Governor Abbott announced Monday morning that the state is waiving STAAR testing for the 2019-2020 school year and is requesting a federal testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.

The governor repeated this announcement in a Monday afternoon press conference on the latest state actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19. According to the governor, 57 Texans across 15 counties have confirmed cases of COVID-19. Little more than 200 people have been tested, and the state is waiting on the results of 300 more individuals. More than half of school districts are closed (a listing can be found here).

The announcement regarding STAAR testing came following calls to cancel the test from elected officials and stakeholders all over Texas over the past week. Many warned that lost instruction time, the unknowns introduced by distance learning required by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), questions over online testing, and the stress on students caused by coronavirus concerns would render any results unreliable for statistical and accountability-related purposes. You can read more on that in this breaking news post from earlier today.

According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told leaders over the weekend that schools could be closed through the end of the school year. Morath reportedly indicated those decisions would be left to local superintendents. Superintendents will also be allowed to administer the STAAR for their own purposes if they choose to do so, although it will not be required by the state. Specific guidance regarding students who would otherwise be required to take the STAAR in order to graduate or advance is expected later this week.

The College Board announced it is cancelling SAT tests scheduled for May 2, as well as makeup exams for the March 14 administration that were scheduled for March 28. The College Board stated it will work to provide additional testing opportunities as soon as feasible.

The TEA released an initial guidance and FAQ last week in which the agency announced schools seeking state aid and waivers due to the coronavirus would be required to provide some form of distance learning to students who remain home, regardless of whether those students are at home by choice or due to school closures.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released an updated nationwide guidance this weekend that recommends canceling or postponing gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. The guidance makes exceptions for schools, institutes of higher learning, and businesses. In a news conference Monday afternoon, the White House suggested limiting gatherings to ten people.

ATPE has compiled and is frequently updating a list of general information regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus, which we encourage you to check out here. We’ll continue to use Teach the Vote for updates to how Texas government and state agencies are handling the outbreak with respect to public education.

Texas election roundup: Runoff endorsements and late surprises

As the rest of Texas turns its focus to the primary election runoffs, it turns out there is still a surprise or two left over from last Tuesday’s primary elections. In House District (HD) 47, Justin Berry now appears to lead Don Zimmerman by a single vote for the second spot in the Republican party runoff. Until Wednesday, it appeared Zimmerman held the one-vote lead over Berry. Votes will be canvassed today and a recount seems likely. The winner will face top primary finisher Jennifer Fleck in the Republican runoff in May.

The runoffs have already brought a fresh round of endorsements. In the Senate District (SD) 27 Democratic party runoff, former Texas Parent PAC endorsed candidate Ruben Cortez endorsed Sara Stapleton Barrera on Friday. Stapleton Barrera is challenging longtime Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. in the runoff. Emily’s List endorsed former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar in the Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate against state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). The winner will face Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November. There was also one highly unusual anti-endorsement in the Republican runoff for State Board of Education (SBOE) District 5. All 10 Republican sitting members of the SBOE endorsed Lani Popp over former Travis County GOP Chair Robert Morrow. Morrow won 40% of the vote in the primary, but is an extremely controversial figure who has been the source of no small amount of angst for Republicans.

In the Texas Senate, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt have each announced they are running for the seat being vacated by state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) in SD 14. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has appointed Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) to the Senate Education Committee to replace Watson, whose resignation will be effective April 30, 2020. Gov. Greg Abbott has not yet set a date for the special election to fill the SD 14 seat.

Some interesting statistics have emerged from last week. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Democrats outvoted Republicans in typically conservative Collin and Denton Counties. Across four Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan counties, 22% more Democrats than Republicans voted in this year’s primary elections. While Democratic turnout was up, Republican turnout was down 43% from 2016. According to Jeff Blaylock of TXElects.com, this year marked the third time in Texas history that 4 million Texans voted in a primary election. The other two times that happened were in the 2008 and 2016 presidential election years. Turnout in last week’s primaries was about 25%, which is the third highest since 1992. Turnout in Texas was historically higher before then, with a spike above 35% back in 1978. Thanks, Jeff, for crunching those numbers.

The runoffs offer educators a chance to cast the most influential vote of the year. You can read more about why that is, as well as see who’s running, in this post about runoffs here on Teach the Vote. You can also sign up for important election reminders by visiting our coalition website for Texas Educators Vote.

Election 2020: The runoff rundown

Super Tuesday has come and gone, but many Texans have a runoff election just around the corner! In any primary election where a single candidate failed to win more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will head to a runoff election on May 26, 2020, to determine who wins their party’s nomination. This is your comprehensive guide to the runoffs from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.

The Candidates

The easiest way to know if you have a runoff election where you live is to visit the Candidate Search page here at Teach the Vote and enter your address. Here’s a list of all the runoffs around the state:

Some of the more high-profile races include the Republican runoff for State Board of Education (SBOE) District 5, in which controversial figure Robert Morrow came out on top in the primary election polling. Other hot races include the Democratic primary in Senate District (SD) 27, in which Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. is headed to a runoff after serving three decades in the Senate. In House District (HD) 59, Rep. J.D. Sheffield, a longtime Texas Parent PAC-endorsed officeholder, is facing a runoff opponent. Another Texas Parent PAC-endorsed candidate, Glenn Rogers, is headed to a runoff for the open seat in HD 60. Our Texas Primary election results blog post has more information on what happened Super Tuesday.

The Timing

The runoff election date is May 26, preceded by a week of early voting May 18 through May 22, 2020. If you didn’t vote in the primaries because you weren’t registered to vote, April 27 is the last to day to register in order to vote in the runoffs. If you’re newly eligible to vote and not yet registered, or recently moved to a different county and never updated your voter registration, now is the time to register!

Keep in mind, also, that there are two sets of elections taking place during the month of May. First, May 2, 2020, is the uniform election date for local elections, which often include school bond propositions, school board races, and other local matters. This is separate from the primary election runoffs that are decided on May 26, 2020. Check out all of the upcoming 2020 election dates, including early voting periods, as we shared in our Spring 2020 issue of ATPE News. We urge educators to vote in every election!

The Rules

Who gets to vote in a runoff election? If you voted in the Democratic primary this year, then you can only vote in the Democratic runoff. If you voted in the Republican primary this year, then you can only vote in the Republican runoff. If you didn’t vote in either primary this year, then you can vote in either party’s runoff election. The voting procedures are the same as in the runoff election. You’ll want to bring along one of the approved forms of identification or mark a form at the polling location indicating you have a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining that identification.

The Stakes

Why is my vote important? There were plenty of races decided on March 3 by just a handful of votes. Voter turnout in Texas is typically low, especially in primary elections and even more so in runoff elections. Just 23.8% of registered voters — less than one in four — participated in the March 3 primaries this year, despite the fact that this is a presidential election year. A little under 9.0% cast ballots in the 2018 primary runoffs, which included a statewide runoff for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. That means your vote in a runoff election is more than twice as likely to influence the outcome of an election as it is in a primary. And it’s absolutely critical that educators influence elections in 2020. Everything from funding for schools and teacher salaries to electoral maps that decide who gets elected in the future are up for grabs. You can read more in our Primary Colors blog series here on Teach the Vote.

Now let’s start making a voting plan for the May 26 runoffs!

Texas election roundup: Last chance to vote early!

Friday, Feb. 28, is the last chance to vote early in the 2020 Texas primary elections, so make plans to vote before 7 pm Friday if you’d like to avoid the long lines we’re expecting to see on Election Day, March 3.

Our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition would like to remind you that by voting, you pick the people who decide how much to fund public schools; how much the state will rely on standardized testing; whether to use A-F ratings and how grades are determined; how much to fund teacher pay, healthcare, and retirement; and whether to invest in our schools or privatize them. You can be a voice at the polls for the over 5.4 million kids in Texas public schools, most of whom are not old enough to vote, model good citizenship for students, move Texas up from being last (or almost last) in voter turnout, strengthen democracy by being an engaged citizen, exert your power at the polls, and practice what you preach — if first grade students are learning the importance of voting, you should, too!

According to data from the Texas Secretary of State’s website, as of the fifth day of early voting, 322,541 Texans had voted in Texas’ top 10 counties for voter registrations. News outlets report that figure as an increase of 30.7% from the number who had voted by the fifth day of early voting in the 2016 primaries.

Statewide 1,394,488 Texans had cast a ballot by Feb 26, the eighth day of early voting, including 762,290 Republicans primary voters and 632,198 Democratic primary voters.  Texas election data researcher Derek Ryan found that, 20% of those who voted in the Democratic primary through day eight of early voting had voted in a previous general election but were likely voting in a primary for the first time. The share of likely first-time primary voters is greater than Democrats saw in 2018 (18%) and in 2016 (17%). In the Republican primary, 12% of early voters this year had voted in a general election but not in a recent primary. So far, slightly more men than women have voted in the Republican primary, while more women than men have voted in the Democratic primary this time around.

On Feb. 26, the Texas Tribune updated its “hot list” of the most competitive Texas primary races. There are 20 Texas House districts on the list, including five races that earned the distinction of being listed among the “hottest” races in the state. Those five are as follows:

  • In House District (HD) 2, the Republican primary features incumbent Rep Dan Flynn (R-Van) being challenged by Bryan Slaton and Dwayne ‘Doc’ Collins. Slaton challenged Rep. Flynn in the 2018 primary and nearly defeated him.
  • In HD 59, the Republican primary is between incumbent Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) and challengers Cody Johnson and Shelby Slawson. Rep. Sheffield, a physician, has been endorsed by pro-public education groups like Texas Parent PAC and received campaign contributions from a number of medical associations. Johnson has loaned his own campaign over $1 million as of his last ethics filing.
  • The crowded race to replace infamous Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), who is not running for re-election in HD 92, has contested primaries on both sides of the aisle. In what has become a closely watched swing district, both parties hope to put forth the candidate who will ultimately prevail in November. The Republican primary candidates are Jeff Cason, who also ran for the seat in 2018 and is one of relatively few candidates to be endorsed this year by Empower Texans; Taylor Gillig, and Jim Griffin, who received endorsements from Texas Parent PAC and Gov. Greg Abbott. The Democratic primary is a contest between Steve Riddell, who came close to toppling Stickland in 2018, and Jeff Whitfield, whom the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram endorsed. There are also two third-party candidates who will be on the ballot in November.
  • In the Republican primary in HD 132, former Rep. Mike Schofield faces Angelica Garcia. Each candidate is vying to unseat freshman Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston) in November. Rep. Calanni defeated then-incumbent Schofield in 2018, flipping the seat from Republican to Democrat that year.
  • Finally, in the Democratic primary in HD 148, newly elected Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston) is defending the seat she won just last month in a special election. Her primary challengers include Adrian Garcia, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, Emily Wolf, and Penny Morales Shaw. While Eastman is now the incumbent, former Rep. Jessica Farrar, who resigned from the seat after last session, is backing Morales Shaw. A Republican challenger who also ran in the special election will be on the ballot in November, too.

Also of note is the sole Texas Senate race to make the Texas Tribune‘s hot list. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a 30-year incumbent, is facing two challengers in the Democratic primary in Senate District 27. One is State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville)., who also received an endorsement from Texas Parent PAC, and the other is Brownsville lawyer Sara Stapleton Barrera.

A new presidential poll released this week by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by Progress Texas shows Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden tied at 24% as the top choice of Texas Democrats. Michael Bloomberg follows at 17%, with Elizabeth Warren at 14%, and Pete Buttigieg at 10%.

With early voting coming to close, ATPE encourages everyone to take a moment to research the races in their local districts and go vote!

Texas election roundup: Week 1 of early voting

We’re more than halfway through the first week of early voting in the Texas primary elections, and preliminary information is trickling in that gives us an idea of who is showing up to the polls in these first few days.

According to TXElects.com, Bexar, Travis, Collin, and Montgomery Counties saw record turnout on the first day of early voting in the Democratic primary, while Harris, Denton, Fort Bend, Hidalgo and Galveston Counties saw record turnout in both parties’ primaries.

A new report by election data researcher Derek Ryan found 85% of people who have voted so far in the Republican primary were voters who vote regularly in Republican primaries, while 9% had voted in a general election but had not voted in a primary election since at least 2012. In the Democratic primary, 70% were the usual Democratic primary voters, while 18% were general election voters casting a primary ballot for the first time since at least 2012. About 2% of 2020 Republican primary voters and 4% of Democratic primary voters were voting for the first time in either a primary or general election.

The same report shows that the voting history of people who have shown up to the polls so far in the 2020 Democratic primary tracks pretty closely to those who showed up in the 2018 and 2016 primary elections. While Republican primary voters in 2020 look pretty much like Republican primary voters in 2018, Republican primary voters in 2016 included a much higher proportion of general election voters participating in their first primary since at least 2012 and crossover primary voters who most recently voted in the Republican primary.

A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll out this week shows Bernie Sanders leading among Texas Democratic primary voters in the presidential race. Support for Sanders has grown to 24%, followed by Joe Biden at 22%, Elizabeth Warren at 15% and Michael Bloomberg at 10%. Among Republicans, 80 percent said they would “definitely” vote to reelect President Donald Trump, and 10% said they “probably” would. The numbers are flipped among Democrats, with 88 percent saying they would “definitely not” and 4% saying they would “probably not” vote to re-elect Trump in November. When it comes to “independents,” 38% said they would “definitely” or “probably” vote to reelect, while 62% said they would “definitely not” or “probably not” vote for Trump.

Finally, state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) announced this week he is retiring from the Texas Legislature and will become the first dean of the University of Houston’s new Hobby School of Public Affairs. This will trigger a special election to fill Watson’s Senate seat, most likely to be held on either the May 2 or November 3 uniform election dates. The Austin area has no shortage of potential contenders to succeed Watson, including a half dozen state representatives with deep ties to the community and extensive political networks.

As always, it’s critical that you head out to the polls this week and vote in the primary elections, as we wrote about in ATPE’s recent “Primary Colors” blog series for Teach the Vote. Because of the way Texas voting districts are gerrymandered, the primary elections are often what determines who will be elected to that seat. The earlier you vote during primary season, the less likely you are to run into the long lines we see as we get closer to election day. School funding, educator compensation, and your political voice are just a few of the issues that are at stake in the elections being held right now. So head out there and vote!

 

 

The Voting Scoop: What you need to know

With early voting underway now across Texas, it’s a good time to review what you need to know about the voting process itself before heading out to the polls. You may find some things have changed since the last time you voted, while other things have stayed the same.

Election administrators all over the country are paying increased attention to election security as a result of widely publicized attempts to hack the 2016 elections. As part of this push, legislators in 2019 attempted to require Texas counties to use voting machines that create a paper record of each individual’s ballot. While a statewide law requiring a paper ballot never passed, all but 69 of the state’s 254 counties now use paper ballots or hybrid voting machines that include both an electronic and a paper record of your vote.

Chances are, your county may have recently switched over to a new ballot-casting process. In some cases, this has caused confusion. In Austin, for example, “fleeing voters” caused delays in the November 2019 election when they misunderstood the process and walked off with the paper ballot records printed off by the new machines. Those paper records are supposed to be placed into the ballot box at the polling location.

Since the voting systems used by Texas counties are varied, make sure you understand the process before casting your vote, and ask the election workers at your polling place for guidance, if needed. Here is some additional information from the Texas Secretary of State’s “How to Vote” section of the VoteTexas.gov website:

Depending on the type of election – local, statewide, national, or combination – you will be handed:

  • A paper ballot on which you will select your choices and which will be counted by hand;
  • A paper ballot on which you will select your choices by darkening an oval, completing an arrow, or “marking” with the aid of a voting machine; or
  • A slip of paper with a numerical access code or, in some counties, a ballot activator card. In the next available voting booth, enter your code or card and let the on-screen instructions guide you through the process of electronic voting.”

If your county uses a machine that creates a paper record, here are some generic directions provided by the Texas Secretary of State:

  • When you walk into the polling place, you will be asked to present one of the seven forms of acceptable photo identification. If you possess one of these approved forms of photo identification, you need to hand it to the poll worker in order to vote. If you are a voter with a permanent exemption on your voter registration certificate, you only need to hand the poll worker your voter registration certificate. If you do not possess a form of acceptable photo identification and cannot reasonably obtain one, you may present one of the supporting forms of identification and execute a Reasonable Impediment Declaration. After you’ve been qualified to vote and signed the combination form, pick up a ballot from the table and proceed to the next available voting booth.
  • Read the directions carefully at the top of the ballot, and then mark your selections using the indelible marker or pen (a marker or pen that cannot be erased) provided to you.
  • When you’re finished, place the voted ballot in the ballot box.

Source: Texas Secretary of State

No matter what kind of ballot machine your county uses, what you’re required to bring with you in order to cast your vote remains the same. The Texas Secretary of State explains the rules on its website, which include a requirement to show an approved form of identification to the poll worker before you may vote (unless you have been given a “permanent exemption on your voter registration certificate.” The seven approved forms of photo identification include:

  • Texas Driver License issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS),
  • Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS,
  • Texas Personal Identification Card issued by DPS,
  • Texas Handgun License issued by DPS,
  • U.S. Military Identification Card containing the person’s photograph,
  • U.S. Citizenship Certificate containing the person’s photograph, or
  • U.S. Passport (book or card).

If you don’t have a photo ID, you can still vote. You will just need to mark a “reasonable impediment declaration” and show a supporting document, which can be one of these:

  • Copy or original of a government document that shows the voter’s name and an address, including the voter’s voter registration certificate;
  • copy of or original current utility bill;
  • copy of or original bank statement;
  • copy of or original government check;
  • copy of or original paycheck; or
  • copy of or original of (a) a certified domestic (from a U.S. state or territory) birth certificate or (b) a document confirming birth admissible in a court of law which establishes the voter’s identity (which may include a foreign birth document).

Here’s one more important reminder about voting: You cannot use your cell phone while casting your vote. So if you’re hoping to refer to a sample ballot to help remember your preferences, be sure to print it out before heading to the polls.

Early voting in the Texas primaries runs through February 28, 2020. Hours and locations will vary based on your county, but you can typically find a list of polling locations and times at your county’s website. Remember that voting early is the best way to avoid getting stuck in long lines. You can also speed things up if you research your candidates here on TeachTheVote.org before heading to the polls.

Now get out there and vote!