Governor limits absentee ballot drop-off locations to one per county
By LYNETTE SOWELL
On Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott issued a proclamation that starting Oct. 2, mail-in ballots delivered in person must be delivered to a single early voting location in each county.
The proclamation also requires early voting clerks to allow poll watchers to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.
Abbott’s proclamation is an amendment to his July 27 proclamation that extended the period in which marked mail-in ballots may be delivered in person.
“The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” said Governor Abbott. “As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
For Coryell County voters who would like to drop off their mail-in/absentee ballots, that means they must travel to the Coryell County Tax Office’s Gatesville location, at 201 S. 7th St., in Gatesville.
According to the website of Coryell County voting registrar Justin Carothers, voters may only drop off their own ballot and must present an acceptable form of photo ID, such as when voting in person.
Early voting starts one week from today and will take place in Coryell County at the Copperas Cove Civic Center, 1206 W. Ave. B, or at the Gatesville Civic Center, 303 Veterans Memorial Loop, Gatesville.
Lampasas County voters may hand-deliver their mail-in ballots to the Lampasas County Annex, located at 409 S. Pecan St. Suite 102, Lampasas. However, during the early voting time period, the county notes that hand-delivered ballots will not be accepted during this time period.
Early voting in Bell County can be done in person at the Harker Heights Parks & Recreation Center, 307 Millers Crossing; the Bell County Annex, 304 Priest Dr., Killeen; Killeen Community Center, 2201 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd.; Bell County Annex, 205 East Central Ave., Temple; or Salado Church of Christ, 217 North Stagecoach.
The deadline to submit an application for a ballot by mail is Oct. 23, which is when request must be received by the county voter registrar, not postmarked.
Nov. 4 is the deadline for which counties receive ballots by mail, and the ballots must be postmarked by election day.
In July, the United States Postal Service notified 46 states, including Texas, as well as the District of Columbia, that there could be delays in the delivery of mail-in ballots. Texas, along with 39 other states, was lumped into a heightened risk for delays group. Thomas Marshall, the general counsel and executive vice present of the USPS, said there was a “mismatch.”
“This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them,” Thomas Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of the USPS, wrote to Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs in a letter dated July 30. “As a result, to the extent that the mail is used to transmit ballots to and from voters, there is a significant risk that, at least in certain circumstances, ballots may be requested in a manner that is consistent with your election rules and returned promptly, and yet not be returned in time to be counted.”
In the state of Texas, by law, mail-in ballots are available for voters age 65 or older, cite a disability or illness, will be out of the county during the election period, or in jail.
The election code defines disability as a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents a voter from appearing in person without the risk of “injuring the voter’s health.”
In May, the Texas Supreme Court determined that the lack of immunity to COVID-19 alone does not meet the definition of disability, but could be considered a factor as part of a voter’s medical situation.
The court said that it is up to voters to assess their own health and determine if they meet the election code’s definition of disability.
Historically, absentee voting in Coryell County made up roughly 4.6 percent of those who voted in the November 2016 general election, or 862 out of 18,643 registered voters who turned out.
Where parties are concerned, out of those 862 voters, 597 were Republican, 252 were Democratic, and 13 were Libertarian.
This year during the March primaries, there were 259 absentee ballots out of 2,462 for the Democratic Party in Coryell County, with 486 absentee ballots out of 7,233 for the Republican Party in Coryell County.
Voters will see another change when they head to the polls, starting as early as next Tuesday. In addition to a change of location, to the Copperas Cove Civic Center, they will also see that there is no option to vote straight-party.
The Texas Secretary of State’s office announced that House Bill 25, passed by the Texas Legislature during its 2019 session, eliminated the straight-party voting option effective Sept. 1, 2020.