Published July 14, 2020
THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT
Want to vote by mail in Brazoria County? Here is how
By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin
Add voting to the list of my routines disrupted by Covid-19.
I voted by mail for the first time in the recent runoff election. Why? Because I worry that November’s presidential election will bring a heavy turnout - both of voters and the virus.
That combination could make standing in lines more perilous, especially for those of us with underlying conditions.
So, just in case, I thought I would give voting by mail a test run in the runoffs.
I voted by mail with some reluctance. I have always enjoyed voting in person, even when lines were long and the weather bad. I found it uplifting to participate in democracy along with my neighbors.
Voting by mail in Texas is easy… if you have an excuse.
Under state law, you need to be disabled or 65 or over to qualify. I meet both those criteria. Maybe I should vote twice. Only kidding.
Confined to jail? That qualifies you to vote by mail as long as you are otherwise eligible. Thankfully, I have never been in jail, although the pandemic has seemingly sentenced me to home confinement.
After determining that I qualified for mail voting, I filled out a form requesting a ballot and sent it in. I received a packet with the ballot a few days later. I filled it out, put it in the provided secrecy envelope and mailed it. Nothing to it.
Nationwide, the pandemic has sent officials scrambling to make sure people can vote safely.
As a result, more states now offer access to some form of mail voting to all voters, according to the nonprofit Open Source Election Technology Institute.
Texas is one of four states that, as of this writing, hasn’t expanded mail voting access because of the pandemic. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said that the “fear of contracting Covid-19 does not amount to a sickness or physical condition as required by state law.”
Notice the words “fear of.” But suppose you actually get Covid-19 or are asked to quarantine yourself? That may qualify you to vote by mail under the disability provision, but Lisa Mujica, Brazoria County’s elections director, advises voters to make sure they can prove it, in case questions arise later.
In addition to being a defense against the virus, there are other advantages to mail-in voting. Jurisdictions may save money because they no longer need to staff polling places and equip each polling place with voting machines.
Also, some reports indicate that voter turnout increases because of the convenience.
I found the main advantage to voting from home is that I could take all the time I wanted. I was able to research the candidates while voting and didn’t need to memorize all those candidates in down-ballot judicial races.
There are critics of mail-in voting. Some people like the tradition of voting in person.
Mujica says she had a voter go to the trouble of getting a mail-in ballot but then hand-delivered it because he enjoyed voting in person.
Although studies have found little evidence of fraud, critics maintain that ballots can be lost at any stage of the vote-by-mail process and that voters outside a polling place can be more easily coerced into selecting candidates they do not support.
Technology may solve the problem of lost ballots.
Many jurisdictions use ballot envelopes equipped with intelligent mail bar codes that enable voters and election officials to track an envelope from drop-off to delivery and processing.
Another potential drawback is that the swelling number of mailed-in ballots nationwide may slow the vote counting in November and not produce results as fast. As evidenced by a recent election in Kentucky, mailed ballots can make the process of vote counting unwieldy. It took a week to determine the winner.
Top election officials warn that if the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is anything but a blowout, the public will need to recalibrate expectations for how quickly the winner will be determined.
Chris Thomas, who served for 36 years as Michigan’s state director of elections, told the New York Times: “I don’t think it matters when you go to bed – you can stay up as late as you want, you won’t have an answer.”
Mujica, who hasn’t yet seen a spike in mail voting in the county, reassures voters.
“We will be prepared no matter what happens,” she said.
Hopefully, come November, Covid-19 will be under control. I then won’t need to vote by mail and once again I can be thrilled by joining my neighbors in line and exercising my right to vote in person.
(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at email@example.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)