Policies on Casting a Ballot

Why it matters

In the last two Presidential election years (2012 and 2016), turnout in Harris County was similar to turnout across Texas, but lower than the overall U.S. voter turnout (Fig. 9). In the 2010 midterm elections, Harris County saw a higher rate of turnout than across the state; however, this was not the case in 2014 (Fig. 8). Both the Presidential and midterm turnout rates are substantially lower for the county and state than overall U.S. turnout. In fact, Texas is consistently ranked as having one of the lowest rates of voter turnout in the country. According to the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, Texas ranked 51st in turnout in the 2010 midterm elections and 47th in turnout in the 2016 Presidential election.

Based on eligible, registered voters. Source: 2010 Election Day Survey, 2014 Election Administration and Voting Survey (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).

Based on eligible, registered voters. Source: 2012 Election Day Survey, 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).

In conversations with community leaders, a range of challenges surrounding the process of casting a ballot emerged. As one leader noted:

Multiple community leaders indicated barriers related to Texas’ Voter ID requirements. For example, one stated:

Navigating the many details associated with voting in Texas was a frequent theme in community leader conversations. One leader captured this theme by describing voting as a:

Another community leader explains challenges to voting related to the diversity of languages spoken in Harris County:


1) “2018 Texas Civic Health Index.” 2018. Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. Retrieved from: https://moody.utexas.edu/sites/default/files/2018-Texas_Civic_Health_Index.pdf

Methods of Voting

In Texas, all registered voters may cast a ballot in one of two ways:

  1. At their assigned in-person voting location on Election Day.
  2. At an in-person county early voting location. (The time period for in-person early voting is outlined below under “Election Administration.”)

In addition, early voting by mail is permitted by a subset of registered voters who meet one of the following specific guidelines:

  • The voter plans to be absent from their home county on Election Day, as well as during any remaining part of the early voting period;
  • Age 65 or older;
  • Having a disability;
  • Expected childbirth during the election period;
  • Confinement in jail;
  • Participation in the state Address Confidentiality Program (described in “Voter Registration”); or
  • A member of the military, military spouse, or dependent.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §64.001; §81.001; §82.001-.005; §84.001-.002; §101.001

Early voting is on the rise nationwide, with about one in five Americans voting early in 2016. As Figure 10 demonstrates, in both Harris County and Texas, in-person early voting is the most popular method of voting. Texas is one of 38 states that permits in-person early voting. Over 65 percent of Harris County voters voted early in November 2016. This represents an increase over prior elections, comparing to 49 percent in 2010 and 40 percent in 2014.

Source: 2010 Election Day Survey, 2014 & 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).

In fact, the overall pattern of voting methods in Harris County and Texas contrasts rather sharply with that of the U.S., where the majority of voters continue to cast their ballots in person on Election Day. As Figure 11 shows, only a quarter of Harris County voters did so in 2016.

Source: 2010 Election Day Survey, 2014 & 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).


1) Absentee and Early Voting. 3 Dec 2018. National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/absentee-and- early-voting.aspx

2) All-Mail Elections (AKA Vote-by-Mail). 15 Aug 2018. National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/all-mail-elections.aspx

Early Vote by Mail (Absentee Voting)

To early vote by mail, a voter who is eligible to do so must mark their ballot, place and seal it in the official carrier envelope, and sign the certificate on the envelope. The envelope may be delivered in one of three ways:

  1. by mail,
  2. by common or contract carrier, or
  3. hand-delivered by the voter to the early voting clerk’s office during voting hours on Election Day – any voter who does this must also present appropriate Voter ID

Early vote by mail ballots must be received by the early voting clerk before polls close on Election Day, or by 5 p.m. the following day if the ballot was postmarked on Election Day. An exception is made for ballots cast from an address outside of the U.S. (See “Military Voters; Overseas Voters; Voters on Space Flights” below.)

Only one ballot is permitted to be included in each separate carrier envelope. Multiple separate, sealed, and signed carrier envelopes containing ballots may be included in a larger package; however, such package cannot originate from an office of a political party, candidate, political committee, or governing body involved in the election.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §86.005, §86.0051, §86.006-.007

Mail-in ballots submitted in violation of the delivery requirements may not be counted. The clerk must note this on the envelope, and treat the ballot as if it was not received in a timely manner. If this ballot that will not be counted was received prior to the end of the early voting period, the early voting clerk must provide written notice to the voter indicating both that the ballot will not count and that the voter may vote in person either during early voting or on Election Day.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §86.006

An individual who assists an early vote by mail voter must sign and complete the assistance section of the sealed carrier envelope, unless the helper is closely related to the voter or lives in the same residence.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §86.0051

Each mail-in ballot will be reviewed for correct use of the carrier envelope certificate, provision of a legal justification for early voting by mail, and the voter’s registration status. Additionally, the signature on the ballot may be compared with any signature on file from the voter from the previous six years to ensure that the signature belongs to the voter.

Any ballot not meeting these requirements is rejected. Written notice explaining why the ballot was rejected must be provided to the address on the ballot application within 10 days after Election Day. If the voter was determined to be deceased, if the voter had already voted in the election, if the ballot had inconsistent signatures, or if the ballot was improperly executed, notice must also be provided to the state attorney general.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §87.041; §87.043

Voting by Mail
While 22 states permit some of their elections to be conducted entirely by mail and three states (Oregon, Washington, and Colorado) conduct all elections entirely by mail, Texas only permits voting by mail in certain cases. Absentee voting is one of these.

The percentage of domestic Harris County voters voting absentee is considerably smaller than the U.S. average. For example, in the 2016 election, 6.6% of Harris County voters did so, compared to 16.5% for the U.S. overall. In fact, as Figure 12 shows, the trend of absentee voting is increasing for the U.S. overall, while for both Harris County and Texas, the rate of absentee voting increased in 2014 but remained relatively unchanged between 2010 and 2016. Unlike Texas, 28 states and Washington, D.C. allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot without providing a specific excuse or justification. Additionally, eight states, but not Texas, permit a voter to make a permanent request to receive absentee ballots for all subsequent elections.

Source: 2010 Election Day Survey, 2014 & 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).

While the percentage of absentee ballots in Harris County remained similar between 2010 and 2016, the raw number of absentee ballots cast has increased sharply in every election, almost doubling since 2010, as Table 3 indicates. The use of provisional ballots is also increasing, but is significantly less prevalent than are absentee ballots.

Table 3: Ballots Cast and Counted in Harris County Elections, 2010-2016

2010 2012 2014 2016
Absentee Submitted 53,248 69,815 71,747 95,291
Absentee Rejected 123 118 680 1,095
% Absentee Counted 99.8% 99.8% 99.1% 99.9%
Provisional Submitted 2,122 5,719 2,946 6,747
Provisional Rejected 1,494 4,632 1,995 5,426
% Provisional Counted 29,6% 19% 32.3% 19.5

Source: 2014 & 2016 Election Administration and Voting Surveys; 2010 & 2012 NVRA Datasets (U.S. Election Assistance Commission). Figures are from the close of registration in prior November even-year election to the close of registration for the current November election.

In a 2018 Houston Chronicle article, a spokesman for the Harris County Clerk’s office suggested that as the number of voters by mail increases, there is a corresponding increase in the number of voters who do not receive their ballots in time to vote by mail. This specific article described several instances of Harris County college students who did not receive their 2018 absentee ballots in time.

Valid Votes
Having more methods by which voters can cast their ballots has the potential to increase voter participation and expand the electorate. However, it also can make voting more complicated since deadlines and other rules vary from one method to another. An important question then, is whether certain methods of voting are associated with higher rates of invalid votes. And if so, what are the reasons for this?

In reviewing the data in the table above comparing the number of absentee and provisional ballots cast over in Harris County during the past four election cycles and the outcome of these ballots, there is a notable disparity in terms of which ballots are more likely to be counted. While nearly all absentee ballots are eventually counted (between 98.9-99.8%), only about 20-30 percent of provisional ballots are counted. Instead, the vast majority of provisional ballots are rejected (more on this in “Provisional Balloting” later in this chapter).

Even though a small number of absentee ballots are rejected, the raw number of rejected absentee ballots is increasing, with over 1000 absentee ballots rejected by Harris County in 2016. This increase raises concerns given the substantial growth in absentee balloting over time. In Figure 13 we report the reasons given by Harris County for rejecting absentee ballots in 2016. We compare these responses for election administrators across Texas and the US.

Source: 2010 Election Day Survey, 2014 & 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).

The most common reason for Harris County to reject absentee ballots is deadlines, i.e., the absentee ballot was not received on time. This constituted nearly 60 percent of rejected absentee ballots in Harris County, as compared to less than half of rejected ballots across Texas and only about a quarter of rejected absentee ballots nationwide. On the other hand, Harris County rejected a relatively small percentage of absentee ballots because of signature or envelope issues.10 Interestingly, nearly 30 percent of absentee ballots in Harris County were rejected for “other” reasons.

10 Specifically, no signature or witness signature, no resident address on the absentee ballot envelope, an unsealed envelope, or no ballot included in the envelope.


1) Gordon, M. 6 Nov 2018. “When voting means going the extra 524 miles.” Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.chron.com/life/article/When-voting-means-going-the-extra-524-miles-13367554.php

Voter Identification

Voter ID Requirements

An in-person voter who owns a photo ID that meets state guidelines must use it to vote in person. Acceptable ID forms are as follows:

  1. DPS-issued Texas Driver License
  2. DPS-issued Texas Election Identification Certificate
  3. DPS-issued Texas Personal Identification Card
  4. DPS-issued Texas Handgun License
  5. United States Military Identification Card with the voter’s photo
  6. United States Citizenship Certificate with the voter’s photo
  7. United States Passport, in book or card form

If the voter is 69 or younger, the ID must not have expired more than four years prior. A voter 70 and older may use an expired ID.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §63.0101; Secretary of State, Election Advisory No. 2018-08, “Voter Identification Procedures under Senate Bill 5 (2017)”

If a voter eligible to early vote by mail delivers their ballot in person to the early voting clerk’s office on Election Day, the voter must provide one of the 7 acceptable forms of ID.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §86.006

Texas county voter registrars must notify registrants of the state’s Voter ID requirements within each registration or renewal certificate, using wording prescribed by the Secretary of State.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §15.005

Each in-person voter must present an acceptable ID.

  • If a voter owns and presents acceptable ID, the poll worker compares the voter’s name on the official list with the name on the ID:
  • If the name matches the official list, the voter may vote.
  • If the name on the ID does not exactly match but is determined to be “substantially similar” (see “‘Substantially Similar’ Determination” below) to the name on the official list, the voter may sign a “Similar Name Affidavit,” and then vote.
  • If the voter presents acceptable ID and a voter registration certificate for that precinct or another precinct in the same county, but is not on the official list, the voter may complete an affidavit stating they reside in the voting precinct, and then vote.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §63.001, §63.006, §63.0101; Secretary of State, Election Advisory No. 2018-08, “Voter Identification Procedures under Senate Bill 5 (2017)”

If a voter’s name on their ID does not exactly match their name on the official list, the election worker must determine if the name is “substantially similar.” The election worker is expected to consider whether other information on the ID, such as address and date of birth, match the official list. The “substantially similar” determination is to be based on evaluation of whether one of the following four circumstances are met:

  1. The name on one document is slightly different from the name on the other document;
  2. The name on one document is a common variation of the formal name on the other document;
  3. The name on one document includes an initial, middle name, or former name that is not on the other document; or
  4. An initial, first name, middle name, or last name appears in a different field on one document than where it appears on the other document.

Texas policy source: 1 Tex. Admin. Code §81.71

If a voter owns an acceptable ID, but did not bring it, the voter must be directed to either leave and come back with it, or to cast a provisional ballot. (Please see the “Provisional Balloting” section below.)

If a voter does not possess acceptable ID and cannot reasonably obtain this ID, the voter may instead complete a Reasonable Impediment Declaration, provide supporting ID, and then vote. (Please see the “Reasonable Impediment Declaration” section below.)

An exemption to the ID requirement exists if a voter has a disability and presents a voter registration certificate with a disability exemption indicated. (See “Individuals with Differing Physical Abilities” in the “Policies on Voter Registration” chapter.)

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §63.001,§13.002;
Secretary of State, Election Advisory No. 2018-08, “Voter Identification Procedures under Senate Bill 5 (2017)”

Reasonable Impediment Declaration

Texas establishes an alternative to the state’s Voter ID requirements for a person who does not own, and cannot reasonably obtain, one of the 7 required forms of ID. Such voters must instead complete a “Reasonable Impediment Declaration” form, swear to its accuracy, and submit one of 6 acceptable forms of supporting ID.

The “Reasonable Impediment Declaration” requires the voter to declare a specific impediment to accessing acceptable photo ID. A reasonable impediment is defined as one of the following:

  • not having transportation;
  • not having a birth certificate or other documentation necessary to secure acceptable ID;
  • work schedule;
  • stolen or lost IDs;
  • disability or illness;
  • responsibilities to one’s family; or
  • having applied but not yet received an acceptable ID.

Poll workers are not allowed to question the voter’s declaration. It is a felony to provide false information on this form.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §63.001, §63.0013, §63.0101; Secretary of State, Election Advisory No. 2018-08, “Voter Identification Procedures under Senate Bill 5 (2017)”

Along with a Reasonable Impediment Declaration form, voters must submit copies or originals of one of the following 6 acceptable forms of supporting ID:

  1. A government document with both the voter’s name and address (including a voter registration certificate)
  2. Current utility bill
  3. Bank statement
  4. Check from the government
  5. Paycheck
  6. Domestic birth certificate or a document confirming the voter’s birth that would be admissible in a court of law.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §63.0101

Voter ID Legislation
Texas initially passed a Voter ID law in 2011; this law was subsequently challenged in court. Critics argued that such voter ID laws result in voter confusion and disenfranchise people who face challenges in obtaining acceptable government-issued IDs. Two months before the 2016 Presidential election, a federal judge assigned to the lawsuit (Veasey v. Abbott) approved a temporary solution. The judge sought to mitigate harm to minorities by allowing those without photo IDs to fill out an affidavit and show an alternate ID. The judge also called for the state to spend $2.5 million on voter education to help voters understand how to comply with the law. Ultimately, the 2011 law was ruled to be discriminatory. The law outlined above is a 2017 revision by the Texas legislature designed to meet the court’s requirements. While like the 2011 law, it requires a photo ID to vote, the revised law provides an alternative mechanism (the “reasonable impediment declaration” process) for individuals who lack an acceptable photo ID. Texas is one of 34 states that either request or require in-person voters to present a form of identification. States vary widely in what they consider acceptable ID. An ID with a photo is requested or required by 17 of these states, including Texas. Several of these 17 states accept any form of ID that includes both a name and photo. Across the U.S., 17 states – not including Texas – explicitly name student IDs as an acceptable form of voter identification. Like many states, Texas places no ID requirements on early voters who submit ballots by mail. As a result, most voters who cast early votes by mail do not provide photo ID when they vote. This includes voters out of their home county during the early voting period and Election Day; voters with disabilities, including childbirth; voters over age 65 on Election Day; and those in jail. Consistent with the federal HAVA law, a first-time voter by mail – except if disabled, in the military, or living overseas – will be asked by Harris County to send a copy of one of the seven forms of acceptable ID, unless the voter provided the number for a photo ID or the last four digits of their Social Security number when registering.

Voter’s ID Status While some studies have examined the effects of the 2011 voter ID law on turnout, including a 2015 study from the University of Houston Hobby Center and Rice University Baker Institute, to date there are no studies examining how the revised 2017 law impacts Harris County voters or Texans more generally. What we can examine however, is the types of IDs Texans possess and the status of these IDs. The 2016 Survey of the Performance of American Elections asked a sample of 200 registered Texas voters about their experiences with voting, whether in-person on Election Day, in-person as an early voter, or absentee. It also asked these respondents which forms of identification they possessed and the status of each ID. In the table below (Table 4), we report responses from the Texas respondents.

Table 4: What IDs Do Texans Have?

YES: with a picture I have this ID without a picture I don't have this ID at all
Driver’s License 89.6% N/A 10.4%
US Passport 44.8% N/A 51.2%
A license to carry a firearm
issued by Texas
4.5% 3.5% 192.1%
A military ID card 8.7% 1% 90.3%
An ID card issued by an agency or
department of the state of that
you have not already indicated
17.1% 6.2% 76.8%%
A public assistance ID card
issued by Texas
13.2% 6.8% 80%
An ID card issued by an agency or
department of the federal government
that you have not already indicated
11.7% 5.5% 87.8%
An ID card from a state college or
university within Texas
8.9% 4.2% 86.9%
An ID card from a private college
or university within Texas
8% 1.9% 90.1%

Source: Survey of the Performance of American Elections (Stewart 2016). Texas Sample. N=200. Bolded IDs are the only ones currently acceptable under Texas law.

While the survey data clearly indicate that the two most common forms of photo IDs held by Texans are a driver’s license and passport, more than half of the Texans in this sample do not possess a passport and about one in ten do not have a driver’s license. In addition, the two other forms of ID allowed in Texas (hand gun license and military ID) are not very common—less than 5% and 9% of Texans respectively said they had these IDs with a photo as required by the state. More Texans reported possessing other forms of photo ID that are not allowed under the Texas voter ID law (student ID, public assistance ID or other ID issued by the state or federal government).

Apart from simply having a valid, allowable ID, the name on this ID must match the information on the voter rolls, and, for voters 69 or younger, the ID must not have expired more than four years ago. Failure to meet these requirements means that voters could be turned away from the polls. Data from the Survey of the Performance of American Elections indicate that a small percentage of Texans have expired driver’s licenses (4%) or driver’s licenses with a different name (3.5%). In addition, nearly 10 percent of Texans’ driver’s licenses have a different address, which may be considered in determining whether a non-exact match between the voter’s ID and the official list is “substantially similar.”

Source: 2010 Election Day Survey, 2014 & 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).

While the data on who has which IDs is informative, it does not provide real evidence about whether lack of a valid voter ID has kept Texas voters away from the polls. Even though the 2017 law was not in effect in November 2016, confusion about the status of the 2011 law and which forms of ID were required was rampant leading up to and during the election. As an extensive report by ProPublica described it, “the state’s efforts to enact and enforce the strictest voter ID law in the nation were so plagued by delays, revisions, court interventions and inadequate education that the casting of ballots was inevitably troubled.” This report states that the best estimates suggest that about 600,000 of Texas’ 15 million registered voters lacked the type of ID required by the new law in 2016, but the federal judge’s late intervention opened the way for many of them to vote anyway.

Looking again at the Survey of the Performance of American Elections, results indicate that not having a proper, photo ID was not among the most common reasons Texans gave for not voting in the 2016 election (Table 5). Only about 6 percent of non-voters cited lack of ID as a major factor. Another 16 percent stated that this was a minor factor.

Table 5: Reasons Texans Gave for Not Voting in November 2016

Not a Factor Minor Factor Major factor
I didn’t like the candidates
or campaign issues
31.3% 13.3% 55.5%
Illness or disability
(own or family’s)
58.6% 8% 33.4%
I did not receive my
ballot in the mail,
or it arrived too late for me to vote.
66.3% 6.1% 27.6%
I was too busy/had a
conflicting work, family,
or school schedule
65.1% 9.1% 25%
Transportation problems 60.1% 23% 17%
There were problems
with my registration
74.7% 9.2% 16.1%
The polling place hours,
or location, were inconvenient
67.3% 16.6% 14.4%
I forgot to vote 74% 11.6% 14.4%
The line at the polls
was too long
70% 15.7% 14.4%
Out of town or away
from home
69.6% 17% 13.4%
I did not have the
right kind of identification
78.2% 16.2% 5.7%

Source: Survey of the Performance of American Elections (Stewart 2016). Texas Sample. N=200


1) Ingram, K. 31 Jan 2018. “Election Advisory No. 2018-08.” Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2018-08.shtml

2) Automatic Voter Registration and Modernization in the States. 11 April 2018. Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved from https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/voter-registration-modernization-states

3) Fernandez, M. 27 April 2018. “Texas’ Voter ID Law Does Not Discriminate and Can Stand, Appeals Panel Rules.” New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/us/texas-voter-id.html

4) Gardner Selby, W. 1 October 2013. “Nearly all Texans who vote by mail need not present a photo ID.” Politifact Texas. Retrieved from https://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2013/oct/01/league-women-voters-texas- education-fund/nearly-all-texans-who-vote-mail-need-not-present-p/

5) Underhill, W. 31 October 2018. “Voter Identification Requirements | Voter ID Laws.” National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id.aspx

6) Request for Temporary Exemption to Identification Requirements for Local County Voter Registration Office. Jan 2018. Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/pol-sub/request-for-exemption-temporary.pdf

7) Wallace, J. 18 June 2017. “Voter advocacy groups fielded complaints about poll problems.” Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Voter-advocacy-groups-fielded-complaints-about-11229033.php

8) Reasonable Impediment Declaration. Jan 2018. Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/pol-sub/reasonable-impediment-declaration.pdf

9) Huseman, J. 2 May 2017. “Texas Voter ID Law Led to Fears and Failures in 2016 Election.” ProPublica. Retrieved from https://www.propublica.org/article/texas-voter-id-law-led-to-fears-and-failures-in-2016-election

10) Stewart III, C. 2016. “2016 Survey of the Performance of American Elections: Final Report.” MIT. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&ved=2ahUKEwjPyNaR35TfAhVBOK0KHSlcBYYQFjAEegQIBRAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.legendsvote.org%2F%3Fsmd_process_download%3D1%26download_id%3D7215&usg=AOvVaw361DGn7qKCFw9HjEZnK_A8

11) Hobby, B., Mark Jones, Jim Granto, and Renée Cross. Aug 2015. University of Houston Hobby Center for Public Policy and Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Retrieved from https://www.bakerinstitute.org/media/files/files/e0029eb8/Politics-VoterID-Jones-080615.pdf

Provisional Balloting

States are required to permit provisional ballots. Provisional ballots must be used to record the vote of a voter whose eligibility is in question, either because the voter’s name is not on the registration or voter list, or because a poll worker or election official has challenged the voter’s identity and/or eligibility to vote.

Minimum standards are established for states in terms of provisional ballots. States must provide provisional ballots to any voter whose eligibility is questioned, but who declares that they are a registered voter in the precinct and eligible to vote. Election officials must provide a free-access system that enables provisional voters to determine whether their vote was counted, and if not, why not; election officials must notify provisional voters of this system.

Federal policy source: Help America Vote Act (HAVA; 2002)

Specific types of in-person voters must be informed that they are eligible to cast a provisional ballot, during early voting or on Election Day, including:

  • A voter not meeting ID requirements
  • A voter who has appropriate ID, but is not on the official list and cannot present a voter registration certificate
  • A voter who did not bring their voter registration certificate indicating a personal disability exemption from Voter ID requirements to the voting location
  • A voter who applied to vote by mail-in ballot and did not cancel the application
  • A registered voter attempting to vote in a precinct in which the voter is not registered
  • A voter who is voting during state or federal court-ordered extended polling hours
  • A voter who does not meet the “substantially similar” name determination.

There is no state provisional ballot system for mail-in ballots.

State policy sources: Tex. Elec. §63.001, §63.009, §63.011; Secretary of State, Election Advisory No. 2018-08, “Voter Identification Procedures under Senate Bill 5 (2017);” 1 Tex. Admin. Code §81.71; §81.172

A voter who has been identified as eligible to cast a provisional ballot must sign an affidavit stating that the voter is both eligible to vote in the election and registered to vote in that specific precinct. If the early voting clerk was required to provide a mail-in ballot to the voter, the affidavit also must state that the voter did not vote early by mail.

Before voting, both the provisional voter and the election judge must complete and sign the Provisional Ballot Affidavit Envelope.

After a provisional ballot is cast, the election judge must provide the voter with a Notice to Provisional Voter. The notice indicates that the voter will be notified regarding whether the ballot was counted, and that the ballot will be counted if the voter is found to be eligible to vote after following all requirements.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §63.001, §63.011; Secretary of State, Election Advisory No. 2018-08, “Voter Identification Procedures under Senate Bill 5 (2017);” 1 Tex. Admin. Code §81.71; §81.173

If a voter votes via provisional ballot after not presenting an acceptable form of ID, they must bring all required materials for their ballot to be “cured” (counted) to the county registrar’s office within 6 calendar days of Election Day. The ballot can be “cured” in one of four different ways:

  1. The voter presents one of the 7 acceptable forms of ID
  2. The voter files a Reasonable Impediment Declaration, together with an acceptable supporting ID
  3. The voter signs an affidavit for a temporary exemption (based on a natural disaster or religious exemption) in the county registrar’s presence
  4. The voter requests and qualifies for a personal disability exemption.

If a voter did not meet the “substantially similar” name requirements when presenting one of the 7 acceptable forms of ID, the voter may submit additional documentation to the county registrar verifying their identity, such as a marriage license, letter from a licensed physician, or court order showing a name change.

In such cases, the Notice to Provisional Voters will include a list of ID requirements, identify the procedure for presenting acceptable ID to the county voter registrar, and provide a map to find the county voter registrar’s office.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §63.001; Secretary of State, Election Advisory No. 2018-08, “Voter Identification Procedures under Senate Bill 5 (2017);” 1 Tex. Admin. Code §81.175

Adoption of HAVA in 2002 required states to allow voters to cast provisional ballots. Texas has continued to modify its provisional balloting process, most recently, adding two days to the state timeline for counting provisional ballots in 2015. A July 2018 memo from the Texas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) calls for better statewide tracking of provisional ballot use in order to assess the extent to which provisional ballots are cast, cured, accepted, and/or rejected across the state.

When we compare trends in the number of provisional ballots cast over the last several election cycles, we see a stark difference between Harris County and Texas and across the U.S. As Figure 15 shows, the U.S. has seen a decline in provisional ballots cast in both midterm and presidential elections. In contrast, in both Harris County and Texas, the number of provisional ballots cast increased between both midterm and presidential elections by 40 and 50 percent respectively. It is worth noting that 16 states have reduced the need for provisional ballots by permitting voters to correct errors on Election Days; additionally, two other states allow voters to correct errors during the early voting period, but not on Election Day.

Source: 2010 Election Day Survey, 2014 & 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).

Provisional ballots make up a relatively small percentage of all ballots cast. In 2016, for example, roughly 6,700 provisional ballots were cast in Harris County, accounting for less than one half of one percent of all ballots cast. Provisional ballots represent a similar share of the total number of ballots cast both in Texas and across the U.S.

When we compare the percentage of provisional ballots cast that jurisdictions actually count, we see quite a different picture. HAVA allows states some flexibility in determining which provisional ballots they will count. As Figure 16 shows, the vast majority of provisional ballots cast in Harris County and Texas—roughly 8 of 10 in presidential elections and 7 of 10 in midterm elections—are not counted. In fact, a 2008 lawsuit, subsequently settled, alleged that Harris County was not processing 7,000 provisional ballots following the 2018 general election. When we look at the U.S. overall, we see the exact opposite pattern. Outside of Texas, the vast majority of provisional ballots are counted, with only about 2 in 10 provisional ballots not counted.

Source: 2010 Election Day Survey, 2014 & 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).

What explains this discrepancy? As shown in Table 6 below, Texas is among the majority of states that do not count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct or polling location. This means that even though a voter may have incorrectly voted for congressional, state legislative, or other district-based races, their votes for presidential, senatorial, and statewide offices would also be disqualified and thus not counted.

Table 6: How States Treat Provisional Ballots Cast in the Wrong Precinct

Full Count Maine**
Partial Count Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, DC, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana*, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island*, Utah, Washington, West Virginia
Not Counted Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

*Only Federal races; ** Validity is only reviewed if the number of provisional ballots cast is a large enough number to affect the results of the election; Source: National Conference of State Legislatures (2018)

Apart from this, the most common reason for the rejection of provisional ballots is related to registration—specifically voters not being registered in the state of Texas. Indeed, in Harris County, three quarters of the provisional ballots cast but not counted were due to this reason. Only a small percentage of provisional ballots (2%) cast in Harris County in 2016 were rejected based on voter ID requirements. This is roughly the same for Texas (1.2%) and the US (1.7%).


1) Ingram, K. 31 Jan 2018. “Election Advisory No. 2018-08.” Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2018-08.shtml

2) Request for Temporary Exemption to Identification Requirements for Local County Voter Registration Office. Jan 2018. Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/pol-sub/request-for-exemption-temporary.pdf

3) Automatic Voter Registration and Modernization in the States. 11 April 2018. Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved from https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/voter-registration-modernization-states

4) Voting Rights in Texas. July 2018. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Retrieved from https://www.usccr.gov/pubs/2018/07-23-TX-Voting-Rights.pdf

5) Pendleton, E. Dec 2013. “Democracy in Texas? Texas’ Faulty Voter Registration Procedures.” Texas Civil Rights Project. Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/191897037/Texas-Voting-Rights-Report

Access to Voting for Diverse Populations

Non-English Speakers

All oral and written materials related to voting must be provided in both English and the language spoken by an applicable minority group. An applicable minority group refers to at least 10,000 people or over 5% of all citizens of voting age whose group members belong to a single language minority group, do not speak English proficiently, and have a literacy rate lower than the national literacy rate.

U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations state that this requirement “should be broadly construed to apply to all stages of the electoral process,” including materials for all primary and general elections, candidate and issue ballots, at all levels of government.

Language-based assistance is permitted inside a voting booth, as long as it is not provided by a union representative or employer.

Federal policy sources: Voting Rights Act, Sections 203 and 208 (VRA; 1965); “Implementation of the Provisions of the Voting Rights Act Regarding Language Minority Groups,” 18 CFR Part 55

Any precinct in a Texas county that has 5% or more residents of Hispanic origin is required to provide bilingual election materials during early voting and on Election Day. Precincts within the county with a smaller percentage of Hispanic-origin residents may file for an exemption to this requirement.

Specific materials must be available in both English and Spanish, including instruction posters, ballots, ballot instructions, official affidavit forms, and all written instructions, applications and balloting materials associated with both early voting and Election Day. Printed ballots in Spanish are required, unless a Spanish translation of the ballot is posted at each voting station, with a Spanish notice on the ballot referring voters to this translation.

If a county is required under the VRA to provide voting materials in any language other than English and Spanish, then the county must apply these same guidelines in that language.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §272.001-.008, §272.010-.011

In all precincts in a Texas county with 5% or more residents of Hispanic origin, unless exempted, “reasonable” efforts must be made to appoint clerks fluent in both English and Spanish. The number of bilingual clerks per precinct is at each county’s discretion; however, the Secretary of State recommends at least one bilingual election clerk in each precinct where at least 5% of voters have Spanish surnames.

If enough bilingual election clerks are not available on Election Day or during the early voting period, a county must appoint at least one bilingual clerk to a central location, with the clerk available to respond to any precinct by phone.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §272.009; Texas Secretary of State, Election Advisory No. 2018-28: “Minority Language Requirements”

Election officials are required to use English in performing official election-related duties, unless a voter is unable to communicate in English. In that case, officials should communicate in a language the voter understands.

If this is not possible, the voter may utilize an interpreter of their choice who can communicate with election officials or go to the voting station to help the voter translate the ballot. This law specifies that the interpreter and voter must be registered voters in the same county; however, it has been ruled in violation of the VRA. [See further discussion below.]

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §61.031-.036

A voter is eligible for assistance in completing the ballot if the voter cannot read the language on the ballot.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §64.031

Under the VRA, the DOJ requires the entire state of Texas to make election materials available in Spanish; in fact, bilingual election materials and clerks have been required in Texas since 1975.

While one-fifth of Texas’ foreign-born population are Asian immigrants, Harris County is the only Texas county required to provide translations in an Asian language. In Harris County, under the VRA, election materials must be provided in both Chinese and Vietnamese. Vietnamese was added in 2002, and Chinese was added in 2011.

A July 2018 memo from the Texas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) indicates that a substantial number of Texas counties do not provide translated ballots or translators as required by law. While a law still on the books in Texas requires an interpreter be registered in the same county as the voter, a series of federal court rulings in 2016 and 2017 determined that the law violates the VRA. It appears that Texas has decided not to pursue further appeals. As a result of these legal challenges, the 2016 election was the first election in 30 years in which a voter could bring with them a translator, such as a family member, who lives outside of their own county. According to the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, this law disproportionately impacted Asian-Americans with limited English proficiency, many of whom rely on their children to help translate.

Various sources indicate mixed implementation of language minority laws in Harris County. Consistent with federal and state laws, a 2008 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that Harris County conducted voter outreach with Hispanic and Vietnamese communities and translated parts of their website. In contrast, in 2012, the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that Harris County poll workers did not permit voters to bring interpreters with them into the voting booth, resulting in over 20% of voters at 3 of 4 Harris County polling locations they monitored not receiving required language assistance in Chinese or Vietnamese.

Translation assistance again became a source of concern in Harris County in October 2018, after election workers at an early voting location did not permit translators to ask Korean-American voters waiting in line to vote whether they needed election-related assistance. The County determined that translators were “loiterers” and prohibited them from helping voters within 100 feet of the polling stations. The translators were permitted to offer their assistance to voters in the parking lot.


1) Ingram, K. 23 Jan 2014. “Minority Language Requirements.” Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory-2014-13-minority-language.shtml

2) Ura, A. 17 Aug 2017. “Texas voting law on language interpreters violates Voting Rights Act, court says.” The Texas Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.texastribune.org/2017/08/17/texas-voting-law-language-interpreters-ruled-unconstitutional/

3) Smith, M. 2 Nov 2016. “Language can be a barrier at the polls for some Asian American voters.” Reporting Texas. Retrieved from http://reportingtexas.com/language-can-be-a-barrier-for-some-asian-american-voters/

4) Johnson, L. 13 Oct 2011. “Harris County Adds Chinese Language to Voting Materials.” Houston Public Media. Retrieved from https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2011/10/13/30496/harris-county-adds-chinese-language-to-voting-materials/

5) Bilingual voting assistance: Selected jurisdictions’ strategies for identifying needs and providing assistance. 18 Jan 2008. GovInfo. Retrieved from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GAOREPORTS-GAO-08-182/html/GAOREPORTS-GAO-08-182.htm

6) Kitamura, D, Navdeep Singh, and Jerry Vattamala. 13 Aug 2016. “Voter Protection During the Election.” National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Retrieved from https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.napaba.org/resource/resmgr/cle/PEF_-_CLE_Material.pdf

7) Part 55- Implementation of the Provisions of the Voting Rights Act Regarding Language Minority Groups. n.d. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/crt/page/file/927236/download

8) Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. n.d. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/crt/language-minority-citizens

9) Ingram, K. 18 Sept 2018. “Election Advisory No. 2018-28.” Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2018-28.shtml

10) Despart, Z. 31 Oct 2018. “Harris County clerk, Korean-American voters seek fix after translators barred from polls.” Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/After-translators-barred-Harris-County-clarifies-13352726.php

11) Ura, A. 30 Nov 2017. “Texas appears to concede voting rights case on language interpreter law.” The Texas Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.texastribune.org/2017/11/30/texas-appears-concede-language-interpreter-law

Older Adults and Individuals with Differing Physical Abilities

Federal Policies

Each individual with a disability is expected to have an equal opportunity to vote in person, during early voting or on Election Day.

Federal policy source: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA – Title II; 1990)

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, all government services and programs, including polling locations, are required to be accessible to voters with disabilities using minimum accessibility requirements adopted by the DOJ.

The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act requires that all polling locations used for federal elections be physically accessible to both elderly voters and voters with disabilities, and requires election administrators to provide accessible voting aids. Exceptions to these polling location requirements can be made; however, affected voters must then be reassigned to another polling location or provided with another way to vote on Election Day.

Under the Help America Vote Act, each polling location for federal elections must offer at least one private voting system/machine that is accessible for people with physical disabilities, including one with features designed to help voters with disabilities and provide assistance for people with visual impairments.

Federal policy sources: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA – Title II; 1990); Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped (VAEHA; 1984); Help America Vote Act (HAVA; 2002)

Voters who need assistance due to a physical disability or visual impairment must be permitted assistance by a person of their choice (as long as the assistant is not the voter’s employer or a representative of the employer or union).

Federal policy source: Voting Rights Act (1965)

State Policies

Polling locations, either in public or private buildings, are required to be accessible for elderly voters and voters with physical disabilities, with a location in each election precinct that complies with federal accessibility requirements.

Specific accessibility requirements are outlined, so that voters with physical disabilities can practically vote via an independent and secret ballot, including entrance, exit, and curb design requirements. No barrier should impede the path of a person with physical disabilities to the voting station.

An exemption process is provided for smaller counties in elections without a federal office on the ballot.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §43.034; §61.012-.013; Tex. Govt. §469.003; Texas Accessibility Standards; 1 Tex. Admin. Code §81.57

Election judges and early voting clerks can permit voters with disabilities to use electronic technology to assist them in voting and understanding election officials’ communications.

Texas policy source: Texas Secretary of State Election Advisory No. 2018-11

Election officers are required to deliver a ballot to a voter at the polling location entrance or curb when the voter is physically unable to enter without personal assistance or with likelihood of injury.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §64.009

Election officers are permitted to give voting order priority to individuals with a “mobility problem that substantially impairs a person's ability to ambulate.”

If voting order priority will be given, notice must be posted at the polling location, on the county elections website, and on the Secretary of State’s website.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §63.0013

A voter may receive assistance in reading, marking, and depositing their ballot, if the voter cannot do so due to a physical disability related to writing or seeing. Assistance can be provided either by two election officers, representing different political parties, or, at a voter’s request, by an assistant of their choosing who meets federal assistant requirements.

It is a misdemeanor offense if the assistant suggests how to vote or assists the voter in any way other than as directed.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §64.031-.037

A process is provided for older adults (age 65 or older) and those with disability status to request to early vote by mail. A voter may request a ballot for a specific election; if an election is not specified on the application, the county clerk must send a ballot to the voter for every election held through the end of that calendar year.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §84.002; §86.0015

A voter may claim a personal disability exemption, with appropriate written documentation, in lieu of state Voter ID requirements.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §63.001

For seniors and individuals with disabilities, voting may take place either at a polling location or through mail-in voting. Texas’ election system relies heavily on utilizing absentee balloting for individuals with disabilities or those over age 65 through its early vote by mail options.

While seniors traditionally vote at proportionately high rates across the U.S., individuals with disabilities are consistently less likely to vote than those without disabilities. Among the critiques of current federal law: anecdotal evidence suggesting some people with disabilities have been pressured to change their votes by their third-party assistants; and concerns that policies that facilitate mail-in or absentee voting for people with disabilities, rather than voting at a polling place “sends a harmful signal about their full inclusion in larger society” (Waterstone, 2014).

Polling Location Accessibility
The U.S. GAO found no physical impediments inside or outside the voting area at just 17% of the polling places across the U.S. that it examined during early voting and on Election Day 2016. Among the polling places it examined, 60% had two or more physical impediments.

As regards Harris County specifically, the DOJ filed a lawsuit in 2016, claiming that just 29 of 83 county polling locations met accessibility standards. DOJ argued that structural and architectural barriers made the county’s polling locations inaccessible to those with physical or visual impairments. The lawsuit sought a court order requiring improvement to polling locations, poll worker training, and changes to site selection to guarantee accessibility. In 2017, a federal judge suggested that claims of accessibility violations were so substantial that an independent review might be needed. The DOJ had planned to send observers to monitor accessibility at Harris County polling locations during the March 2018 primary elections, but stopped this effort just days before the primary.11

Voting in Long-Term Care and Other Residential Facilities
According to a 2009 GAO report, almost all states (44, not including Texas) report having in place at least one of three specific categories of statutory requirements or guidance regarding voting in long-term care facilities:

  • Accommodations for voter registration;
  • Accommodations for voter ID; and
  • Accommodations to assist residents with absentee voting (reported in 42 states).
  • Just under half of all U.S. states, not including Texas, reported that they train local election officials specifically regarding how to facilitate voting for residents of long-term care facilities.

In addition, 23 states have laws that allow mobile voting through which states permit bipartisan teams of elected workers to supervise casting of absentee ballots at locations such as nursing homes or other health-care facilities. Texas briefly had such a law: HB 658, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2017, was designed in part to increase voting access to voters with disabilities and in nursing homes. It included a provision allowing blank ballots to be hand-delivered to individuals living in a residential care facility which would then be collected and deposited by election judges. This provision was repealed in a special session that same year, leaving it in effect solely for elections that took place between Oct. 7 – Nov. 30, 2017.

A 2017 Texas Senate Select Committee on Election Security was charged with studying various election-related issues, including “voting fraud and disenfranchisement occurring inside nursing homes and assisted living facilities.” The Committee’s 2018 report identified concerns about voting accessibility in such facilities, such as a facility that refused access to a county clerk seeking to facilitate residents’ voting, and recommended future attention to voting accessibility among residents of nursing homes.

11 In March 2019, Harris County and the DOJ reached a settlement, with Harris County agreeing to identify an ADA compliance officer, submit a compliance plan to the DOJ, make accessibility improvements to some voting locations, and hire outside experts to supervise voting.


1) Election Code: Title 7. Early Voting: Subtitle A. Early Voting: Chapter 86. Conduct of Voting by Mail. n.d. Texas State Capitol. Retrieved from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/EL/htm/EL.86.htm

2) Voters with Special Needs. n.d. VoteTexas.gov. Retrieved from https://www.votetexas.gov/voters-with-special-needs/

3) Government Code: Title 4. Executive Branch: Subtitle E. Other Executive Agencies and Programs: Chapter 469. Elimination of Architectural Barriers: Subchapter A. General Provisions. n.d. Texas State Capitol. Retrieved from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/GV/htm/GV.469.htm

4) Texas Accessibility Standards. 15 March 2012. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Retrieved from https://www.license.state.tx.us/AB/2012TAS/2012tasComplete.pdf

5) Voting. n.d. Office of the Texas Governor | Greg Abbott. Retrieved from https://gov.texas.gov/organization/disabilities/voting

6) Election Code: Title 4. Time and Place of Elections: Chapter 43. Polling Places: Subchapter A. Number and Location of Polling Places. n.d. Texas State Capitol. Retrieved from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/EL/htm/EL.43.htm

7) Election Code: Title 6. Conduct of Elections: Chapter 61. Conduct of Voting Generally: Subchapter A. General Provisions. n.d.. Texas State Capitol. Retrieved from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/EL/htm/EL.61.htm

8) Election Code: Title 6. Conduct of Elections: Chapter 64. Voting Procedures: Subchapter A. Voting Generally. n.d. Texas State Capitol. Retrieved from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/EL/htm/EL.64.htm

9) Voting Accessibility. n.d. Texas State Government. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/seminar/2018/36th/Presentation-Files/Polling-Place-and-Voting-System-Accessibility.pdf

10) Walters, E. 4 Aug 2016. “Harris County Sued Over Disabled Voting Access.” The Texas Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.texastribune.org/2016/08/04/harris-county-violated-disability-law-polling-plac/

11) Justice Department Files Suit Against Harris County, Texas, Over Polling Place Accessibility for Voters with Disabilities. 4 Aug 2016. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-files-suit-against-harris-county-texas-over-polling-place-accessibility

12) Banks, G. 21 Apr 2017. “Judge Considering Special Master to Oversee Disabled Voter Access to Polls.” Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Judge-considering-special-master-to-oversee-11090806.php

13) Banks, G. 2 Mar. 2018. “Justice Department Withdraws Review of ADA Access at Harris County Polling Sites.” Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/houston/article/Justice-Department-withdraws-review-of-ADA-access-12722939.php

14) Election Code: Title 6. Conduct of Elections: Chapter 63. Accepting Voter. n.d. Texas State Capitol. Retrieved from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/EL/htm/EL.63.htm

15) Notice of Voting Order Priority. Aug 2017. Texas Election Code. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/pol-sub/7-7bf.pdf

16) Ingram, K. 12 Sept 2017. “Election Advisory No. 2017-12.” Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2017-12.shtml

17) HB 658: Voting at Residential Care Facilities. 11 Oct 2017. Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/election-judge-training-hb658-voting-residential-care-facilities.pdf

18) Malewitz, J. 2 June 2017. “Texas may expand ballot access for elderly and voters with disabilities.” The Texas Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.texastribune.org/2017/06/02/texas-might-broaden-ballot-access-elderly-and-voters-disabilities/

19) [The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities. n.d. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/ada_voting/ada_voting_ta.htm

20) Voters with Disabilities: Observations on Polling Place Accessibility and Related Federal Guidance. Oct 2017. United States Government Accountability Office. Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/687556.pdf

21) Waterstone, M. Dec 2004. Disability and Voting – The (As of Yet) Unfulfilled Potential of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. Information Technology and Disabilities Journal. Retrieved from http://itd.athenpro.org/volume10/number2/watersto.html

22) ADA Checklist for Polling Places. n.d. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/votingchecklist.htm

23) Schur, L. 22 June 2013. “Reducing Obstacles to Voting for People with Disabilities.” MIT. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/supportthevoter/www/files/2013/08/Disability-and-Voting-White-Paper-for-Presidential-Commission-Schur.docx_.pdf

24) Vasilogambros, M. 23 Jul 2018. “How to Bring the Ballot to Aging Americans.” Pew Research. Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/07/23/how-to-bring-the-ballot-to-aging-americans

25) Information on Promising Practices Could Strengthen the Integrity of the Voting Process in Long-term Care Facilities. Nov 2009. United States Government Accountability Office. Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/new.items/d106.pdf

26) Senate Select Committee on Election Security. Dec. 2018. “Interim Report.” Retrieved from https://lrl.texas.gov/scanned/interim/85/EL25ss.pdf

Individuals in Jail

An individual confined to jail may request an application to early vote by mail, if the voter is

  • Serving a misdemeanor sentence with a term ending on or after Election Day;
  • Pending trial with or without bail and unlikely to be released before Election Day; or
  • Pending an appeal of a felony conviction without bail.

The address of the jail or of a close relative, as defined by law, must be provided in the application.

A voter meeting the above criteria may not vote in-person unless permitted to do so by the person in charge of the jail.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §82.004; §84.002

Working Voters

An employer or supervisor cannot refuse or penalize a voter for taking time off from work to vote on Election Day, unless the polls are open for two consecutive hours outside of the voter’s working hours. The Texas Workforce Commission recommends giving employees two hours paid time off to vote on Election Day.

It is a third-degree felony for an employer or supervisor to threaten or cause a voter to lose wages or other employment benefits in retaliation for either how the employee voted or for the employee refusing to share how they voted.

Texas policy sources: Tex. Elec. §276.001; §276.004; Texas Workforce Commission: “Especially for Texas Employers”

Texas is one of 30 states with a voting leave law. These laws vary widely: some states require employers to post a notice in the workplace before Election Day notifying employees of their right to time off work to vote; some states require employees to provide prior notice of their absence to vote to their employers; the amount of time allowed off varies; some require the leave to be paid; other states do not. In Texas, because an employer cannot penalize a voter for missing work, time taken off of work to vote is paid leave.


1) Voting – Time Off. n.d. Texas Workforce Commission. Retrieved from https://twc.texas.gov/news/efte/voting_time_off.html

2) Nagele-Piazza, L. 22 Aug 2016. “Do Employees Get Time Off to Vote?” Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/state-voting-leave.aspx

3) Gillett, R. and Grace Panetta. 6 Nov 2018. “In New York, California, Texas, and 27 other states you can take time off from work to vote – here’s the full list.” Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/can-i-leave-work-early-to-vote-2016-11

Military Voters; Overseas Voters; Voters on Space Flights

The federal MOVE Act enables military voters, spouses and dependents, as well as voters temporarily living overseas request a registration application and ballot by mail or email and to track the status of their ballots. Voters can both register and request ballots via the Federal Postcard Application (FPCA) system.

States must send these voters absentee ballots no later than 45 days prior to a federal election.

Federal policy source: Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (“MOVE Act”; 2009)

State law mandates that the MOVE Act applies not only to federal elections, but also to all statewide elections in Texas and any election held concurrently with a state or federal election.

An applicant who is registered to vote must submit the FPCA by the 11th day before the election. An applicant who is not registered to vote must submit the FPCA, including information that will allow the applicant to become registered to vote, by the 20th day before the election.

Ballots must be submitted utilizing mail, courier, or other specified authorized methods specifically when a voter is in imminent danger or areas designated as combat zones. The law specifies procedures for determining in which cases a marked ballot that arrives late may be counted – a 2017 state law permits acceptance of a military voter’s ballot as long as it is received no later than the 6th day after the election.

State policy sources: TX Senate Bill 100 (2011)/ Tex. Elec. §101.001-108

Establishes guidelines for voting by eligible Texas voters who will be on a space flight on both election day and during the period of early voting. Voters must apply utilizing the FPCA, and then can submit their secret ballot utilizing a method identified by the U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration.

State policy sources: Texas HB 841 (1997); 1 Tex. Admin. Code §81.35 (2000): Voting from Outer Space

Lawsuits have been filed and out-of-court agreements reached with multiple states that have been in violation of the MOVE Act. Texas has not been involved in any of these lawsuits and agreements. Instead, Texas goes beyond the minimum requirements of the MOVE Act, extending its requirements to many state and local elections.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature initiated a pilot program through HB1129 allowing certain military voters receiving hostile fire pay in one county (Bexar) to return their ballots via email. Just three voters submitted an email ballot in the March 2014 primary, and eight of 856 qualified voters submitted an email ballot in the Nov. 2014 general election.

Texas is the only state that has specifically adopted a law that outlines a process for astronauts to cast a ballot from space. The first Texas astronaut to cast a ballot did so in 1997. Ballots are electronically uploaded from space and delivered to the county clerk’s office utilizing a private security code.


1) Voting by Federal Postcard Application (FPCA). n.d. Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/seminar/2017/35th/voting-by-federal-postcard-application-fpca.pdf

2) Democracy from Afar: States Show Progress on Military and Overseas Voting. Jan 2012. The Pew Center on the States. Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/assets/2012/01/pew_democracy_from_afar.pdf?la=en

3) Report to the 84th Legislature on House Bill 1129 (83rd Legislature) Relating to a Program Allowing Certain Military Voters on Active Duty Overseas to Cast a Ballot Electronically. n.d. Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/report-84th-bill-1129.shtml

4) Bill Text: TX SB100. 17 Jun 2011. LegiScan. Retrieved from https://legiscan.com/TX/text/SB100/2011

5) Texas Administrative Code. 5 Mar 2012. Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from http://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/public/readtac$ext.TacPage?sl=R&app=9&p_dir=&p_rloc=&p_tloc=&p_ploc=&pg=1&p_tac=&ti=1&pt=4&ch=81&rl=35

6) Stockton, N. 8 Nov 2016. “Martian-Americans Can Vote – But Only if They Come from Texas.” Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2016/11/martian-americans-can-vote-come-texas/

7) U.S. Department of Justice. 27 Oct 2010. “Fact Sheet: Move Act.” U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/fact-sheet-move-act

Individuals with Housing Insecurity

State law provides an avenue for homeless individuals to acquire a DPS-issued Texas Personal Identification Card in order to meet state voter ID requirements.

An individual residing in or receiving services from a homeless shelter, transitional service provider, or group home can acquire this card, as long as a representative of that organization 1) signs a Texas Residency Affidavit form certifying a relationship with the individual and 2) provides a notarized letter indicating that they receive mail for the applicant.

Texas policy source: 37 Tex. Admin Code §15.49

Nationally, it is estimated that 10% of eligible homeless individuals vote. Voter ID requirements have been identified as a barrier to voting for homeless individuals. One election law expert interviewed for a 2015 NPR story on challenges to voting for homeless Texans claims that a “substantial proportion” of the approximately 600,000 Texans who lack sufficient ID to vote are homeless.


1) Schneider, A. 3 Nov 2015. “In Texas, Homeless Residents Face Obstacles to Voting.” National Public Radio. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2015/11/03/454342295/in-texas-homeless-residents-face-obstacles-to-voting

2) Zhao, J. 9 Aug 2012. “Why We Should Care About the Homeless Vote.” National Coalition for the Homeless. Retrieved from https://nationalhomeless.org/care-homeless-vote/

3) Voting Issues for Texas Harvey Evacuees. n.d. Votetexas.gov. Retrieved from https://www.votetexas.gov/harvey/index.html

Victims of Natural Disaster

A provisional process is available for voters whose acceptable ID is inaccessible due to a natural disaster declared by the president or governor, if the disaster occurred within 45 days of the election.

To have one’s ballot cured, the voter must go to the county registrar’s office within six calendar days to apply for a temporary natural disaster exemption. The voter must submit a Reasonable Impediment Declaration form and certify that the voter does not have access to a required photo ID. One supporting form of ID must be provided.

Texas policy sources: Elec. Code §63.001; §63.011; §65.054; Texas Secretary of State: Notice to Provisional Voter

Voters displaced by a natural disaster are responsible for determining what they consider to be their permanent address at the time of the election. Voters who want to vote at the address of the home from which they are temporarily displaced may apply for a ballot by mail by the statewide application deadline. For voters residing in a shelter as a result of the disaster, guidelines listed above under “Individuals with Housing Insecurity” apply.

Texas policy source: Texas Secretary of State: Voting Issues for Harvey Evacuees

Voters who have been evacuated due to a natural disaster and therefore are unable to receive the county’s biennial mailing of a new voter registration certificate to their home may be placed on the county’s “suspense list.”

A voter on the suspense list who maintains that same residence can vote with appropriate ID; however, if the voter now lives in a new residence in the same county, the voter must complete a Statement of Residence form before voting.

A voter who has been placed on the suspense list and who does not vote during one of the following two state general elections will be removed from state voter rolls.

Texas policy source: Tex. Elec. §14.001-.023; §15.081
Harris County policy source: Harris County Press Release (2/2/18)


While the state explicitly accounts for the impact of natural disasters on Texans’ ability to have access to the approved Voter IDs through its natural disaster exemption, this provision only applies in the case of a disaster that has occurred 45 days (less than two months) before Election Day. Texans who are forced to evacuate their homes and, as a result of disaster, lose extensive belongings and documentation may face challenges in securing the necessary identification that extend beyond 45 days.


1) Baskin, T. n.d. “Don’t be in Suspense About Being Able to Vote.” Harris County Texas. Retrieved from https://www.hctax.net/About/Announcements/February022018

2) Voting Issues for Texas Harvey Evacuees. n.d. Votetexas.gov. Retrieved from https://www.votetexas.gov/harvey/index.html

3) Notice to Provisional Voter. Jan 2018. Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved from https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/pol-sub/notice-to-provisional-voter.pdf

4) Lewis, E. 6 Nov 2017. “Texas Voter ID Laws and Hurricane Harvey Join in Election Maelstrom.” William and Mary Law School: Election Law Society. Retrieved from http://electls.blogs.wm.edu/2017/11/06/texas-voter-id-laws-hurricane-harvey-join-election-maelstrom/

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