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Published October 13, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

What happens to mail-in ballots after they arrive at county clerk’s office?

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

My wife and I received our mail-in ballots on a Friday afternoon. We filled them out Saturday morning and dropped them in the Pearland post office mailbox that afternoon.

Nothing to it. We had performed our civic duty. No lines. No coronavirus.

But, with all the national controversy surrounding the security of mail-in voting, I still had one nagging question: What happens to my ballot once I mail it to the Brazoria County Clerk’s office?

Fortunately, I knew just the person to call. Lisa Mujica is elections director for our county. The Freeport native had helped me on an earlier column. She’s cooperative, transparent answering questions and radiates confidence in the way we vote. She makes me feel good about living in Brazoria County.

She explained what goes on behind-the-scenes in the mail-in process.

First, if you are a mail-in voter who doesn’t trust the postal service, Mujica encourages you to call the county clerk’s office. In a matter of minutes, personnel there can tell you whether your ballot arrived.

Once the ballot arrives at the county clerk’s office, the ballot envelope is checked to make sure it has been signed. If there is time, ballot envelopes without signatures are returned so a signature can be added. If there is not enough time, the ballot will not be counted.
Mujica estimates only about one percent of the ballots come in without signatures.

Ballots are locked up, and only Mujica and County Clerk Joyce Hudman have access to them.

About a week before the Nov. 3 election day, teams are assembled to compare the signature on the ballot envelope with the signature on the earlier application for the ballot.

There are approximately 10 - 15 teams, each made up of one Republican and one Democrat. They are appointed by county party chairs.

Questions arising in these teams about the legitimacy of a ballot are forwarded to the final judges for a ruling. Again, this is a two-person team made up of one Republican and one Democrat appointed by the county party chairs.

According to Mujica, the process is pretty smooth with not many serious disputes or arguments.

“I am blessed in that regard,” she says.

It is important to note that at this point, the actual votes are not being tabulated. By law, that doesn’t start until election day. The clerk’s office, however, faces a deadline. By 7 p.m. on election night the office must release vote totals for mail-in votes and early voting.

In case of disputes after the election, the ballots must be retained for 22 months.

As mentioned in an earlier column, not every Texan can vote by mail. You need an “excuse.” To vote by mail in Texas you need to be 65 or over, be sick or disabled (fear of catching the coronavirus doesn’t qualify), be out of the county on election day, or be confined to jail.

An important deadline is approaching if you want to vote by mail. Your application must be submitted by Oct. 23, and the returned ballot must be postmarked by Nov. 3.

Early voting begins Oct.13 and ends Oct. 30.

With election day fast approaching, you would think Mujica would be a bundle of nerves. She has to contend with more registered voters, more mail-in ballots, last-minute state court rulings and national voting controversies.

While admitting she is looking forward to the election being over, she is confident the county is ready for whatever happens.

“We hold the integrity of the election process to the highest standards,” says Mujica, who has been on the job for five years.

Whether you vote by mail, vote early or enjoy the thrill of voting the old-fashioned way by standing in line with neighbors on election day, I encourage you to vote.

Mujica and her office will make sure your voice is heard.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)