by Amber Mills

As the first month of 2022 ends, and February begins, we can already feel the excitement, friendly competition, and civic engagement in the air indicating that one of our favorite seasons is upon us –  the Texas Primaries. You’ve registered to vote at your current address and checked your voter registration status twice, now it’s time to vote. 

While we know you can’t wait to make your voice heard at the county, state, and federal levels, we understand that you might feel anxious as variants of COVID-19 continue to rapidly spread along with a slew of voter suppression laws. I mean WTF right? But don’t fret because we’re here to break it all down and help you navigate the voting process. 

Voting during Panny? a Panorama? A PATRICIA?  

The 2020 Texas Democratic Primaries were the first elections to take place following the outbreak of COVID-19 and when it came to pandemic preparedness in counties across the state, it was a dumpster fire. Many election offices took this as a lesson learned and have adjusted the way they administer elections. This has come in the form of following CDC recommendations, to making voting more accessible through expanded hours and curbside voting. However, there has been little to no guidance from the state, and we cannot be certain that your polling location will be taking the necessary precautions. Instead, we can give you all the tips and suggestions to follow while casting your ballot. Take it or leave it, but really… actually take it. 

  • Vote Early ~ The best way to avoid crowds of people and long lines is to vote early beginning on February 14th and ending February 25th. We all know it’s too late for Valentine’s Day reservations, so how about a cute date at the polls? 
  • Vote by Mail ~ If you meet any of the qualifications below, complete and sign an application to vote by mail. The County Clerk must receive your application via mail by February 18th. When it comes to mailing your ballot, there are some new rules you need to be aware of. Surprise? Yeah I didn’t think so, but more on that later. For now, look over this wonderful resource from some of Texas’s favorite baddies, The League of Women Voters.  
    • are 65 years or older;
    • are sick or disabled;
    • will be out of the county on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance; or
    • expect to give birth within three weeks before or after Election Day; or
    • are confined in jail, but otherwise eligible.
  • Use curbside voting ~ If you are physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring your health or if you have symptoms of Covid-19, you can vote curbside, meaning that a poll worker must bring a ballot or voting machine out to you.
  • Be Prepared ~  Don’t show up to the polls empty handed. Some things you should bring include a mask, sanitizer, finger glover or pencil, and one of the accepted forms of ID.

Voting in the Voter Suppression State  

🎨: Jenna Lueke, MOVE Texas 2021 Artist Fellow 

Now let’s skip to the new election laws, which are really just voter suppression tactics dressed in business casual attire. Texas is already widely known as the hardest state to vote in, yet more barriers have been added that will have a detrimental effect on voter turnout, especially for voters of color, students, and disabled people. If you don’t believe me, take a quick  break from reading to play Voting in Texas: The Game created by Texas Public Radio. Goodluck! 

During the 2021 legislative regular session and the following two special sessions, we called on lawmakers to pass policies that would protect Texans by responding to the COVID-19 crisis and fixing our failing energy grid. Instead, Governor Abbott and his anti-voter minions spent months fighting to pass Senate Bill 1 to prevent the rising and diverse Texas electorate from exercising their fundamental right to vote. This voter suppression bill has now become law and the harmful impacts have already started to unfold. 

Here are the big red flags in SB 1 and how you can avoid them:

🚩 Added and unnecessary rules to the mail-in ballot request process

  • If voting by mail, you are now required to provide your Voter ID number (TXDL, Personal ID, EIC Number or, if not available, the last four digits of SSN) on your VBM application and VBM ballot carrier envelope.  
  • You must use the same Voter ID number on your voter registration application, VBM application, and VBM carrier envelope otherwise your ballot may be rejected.

Pro tip:  Track your VBM application and VBM ballot throughout the election process. Be sure to provide contact information on your VBM application so the county may contact you if you need to fix an error with your application or ballot.

🚩 Prohibited popular voting options 

  • Counties are now prohibited from offering drive-thru voting as well as 24 hour polling locations and are only allowed to conduct elections between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. 
  • Some smaller counties may now fall under the requirement of having at least 12 hours of early voting on weekdays in the second week. While at MOVE Texas we are all for expanded access, this does not take away from the harm that will occur from restricting voting hours and options especially in urban areas that have a large percentage of Black and Brown voters.  

Pro tip: Look at your county’s election office website to find your nearest polling location and early voting hours, so that you can make a plan to vote. Try going to the polls before or after work, in between classes, or on the weekend. As long as you are in line by the time polls close, you will be allowed to cast your ballot!  (FYI curbside voting is a great option if you meet the requirements listed above)

🚩 Empowered poll watchers 

  • Although partisan poll watchers are required to complete a training and take an oath, they have fewer restrictions on movement within a polling location and are entitled to sit or stand near enough to hear and see activity as well as to watch poll closing activities.

Pro tip: Know your rights! You don’t have to speak to them or listen to anything they say. We recommend keeping a distance and not engaging with them to avoid any intimidation about casting your vote.

🚩 Increased risks for assisting voters

  • Any person assisting voters with a VBM application, VBM ballot, or in-person ballot, must fill out a document showing their name, address and relationship to the person they helped cast a ballot and sign an oath indicating that they did not receive compensation and pledge to obey certain limits to their assistance. 
  • Any person who drives 7 or more voters who qualify for curbside voting, must sign a form which is shared with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General’s office.

Pro tip: Keep the new requirements in mind, but try not to let these unnecessary changes stop you from participating in civic engagement with your community. 

🚩 Requirement for potentially discriminatory monthly voter purges without a curative requirement

  • The Texas secretary of state’s office is required to check monthly to make sure no one is on the state’s voter rolls who said they were not a citizen when obtaining or renewing their driver’s license or ID card. This is an extremely dangerous as it comes following the 2019 discriminatory purge that illegally removed thousands of naturalized citizens from the voter rolls.

Pro tip:  The number one way you can protect yourself from being prevented from voting after a purge is to make it a habit to check your voter registration status before the deadline to register! Repeat for all upcoming elections. 

🚩Lack of guidance from Governor Abbott, the lawmakers who authored this bill, and the Secretary of State

  • Despite SB 1 taking effect in September of 2021, there has been very little guidance from the state on how counties should be conducting elections and how voters should navigate the voting process under these new laws. A single advisory was released from the Secretary of State’s office only a few weeks before the election, not even touching the surface of what needs to be done in order to effectively communicate the changes to the public and prevent thousands from being disenfranchised. 

Pro tip:  If after reading this, you still have questions or you run into any problems while registering to vote, submitting a VBM application, or casting your ballot you can visit the Election Protection website for more resources or call into their hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.

This all may be a lot to take in and is definitely not good news, but remember that voting is our sacred right! Channel all your fears and anger into action by having a say in election outcomes. Also, encourage all your friends and family to do the same. Now that you’re prepared to vote, stay tuned for a deep dive into the local, state, and federal offices you can expect to see on your ballot and WTF they do.    

Amber Mills (she/her) is the Austin Advocacy Organizer for MOVE Texas.