As the midterm elections have drawn closer, many American students on campus have been requesting their absentee ballots from all over the country. This year, Texans are especially committed to getting their ballots: the close, heavily watched Senate race between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz, among others, is looming.
I asked Texans on campus about their experiences applying for an absentee ballot from the state government. As a Texan myself, I’ve been frustrated with this recently and in past elections, as the process can be convoluted and confusing. While getting an absentee ballot can be slow from many states, Texas has some of the lowest voter registration rates and voter turnout in the country. For several students, it seems clear that the state process for handling these applications worsens the problem.
Camilla Lopez ’19 didn’t have trouble with the application but stressed the importance of this election cycle.
“In the 2016 election I was registered to vote here in Connecticut,” Lopez said. “But in this election I decided to register for an absentee ballot because I feel like my vote really matters in Texas. Texas and its politics are often misunderstood, but I think in the near future Texas could turn into a blue state. Beto O’Rourke’s surprising success against Ted Cruz has ignited myself and many other Texas Democrats to get out the vote in this midterm election.”
O’Rourke’s progressive campaign certainly has enlivened the left in Texas, and his popularity has inspired real hope. Democrats across the state believe that Texas would already be a blue state if voter turnout were higher, and this race has the potential to drastically move the state forward in civic participation.
In Texas, registered voters who need absentee ballots must first find the application for a ballot by mail on the website of their early voting clerk or that of the secretary of state. If you’re already a registered voter, there’s still time to do this: the deadline to mail in the absentee application is Friday, Oct. 26.
Julian Johnson ’19 is re-applying for his ballot after being rejected for some unclear reason. He aired his frustrations.
“I requested an absentee ballot at the end of the summer, knowing that once school got back in session things would be way too hectic,” he said. “I got an email back saying that my application is incomplete, and they’re asking me to start over and reapply, not really telling me what additional information they need. I still have a little bit of time before the deadline, though. But I still find it frustrating.”
Last year, too, getting an absentee ballot was a long process for Johnson.
“For the longest time, I didn’t think it would come. It took maybe a month for me to receive it by mail, and I didn’t think it’d get back in time to count.”
Just in case, he asked his dad, who wasn’t planning on voting, to vote in his place. In the end, the ballot did arrive.
“Still, you’d think after all the time, energy, money, and bodies that go into campaigning for office, someone would come up with a more accessible, less archaic, and equally secure way for people to vote, no matter where you are,” he said.
Filling out the application can be confusing, as the printable form on the secretary of state’s website provides little information and only vague instructions on how to find the address to send it back to. The application is the same one used for ballots by mail for the elderly or disabled who are unable to leave their homes and people who are hospitalized or imprisoned in jail. The many options here, with the many boxes on the form, can create confusion for voters as well.
A question about when the election is that the voter is requesting a ballot for can also throw people off, given how hard it can often be to discern the actual election dates. Finding specific information about elections and what will actually be on the ballot is often difficult in the United States and discourages people from even voting in the first place, not to mention struggling to fill out a convoluted, bureaucratic form.
Olivia Nájera-Garcia ’21 had a hard time making sense of the application.
“I requested an absentee ballot in the mail, but honestly it was a lot of guessing if I was doing the right steps,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I was requesting to register to vote or to actually vote, and the website didn’t make it very clear. This is the first time I am able to vote, so I had no idea what to actually do. It was also really confusing because some people told me they could do most of the process online, but Texas, of course, requires everything by mail. I ended up requesting my absentee ballot twice because I thought I did it wrong the first time.”
Sarafina Fabris-Green ’20 is studying abroad with a traveling program but is still committed to getting her ballot in.
“I already registered for my absentee ballot a month ago,” she explained. “I was expecting to receive the ballot in the mail in Spain, fill it out, go to the U.S. consulate in Barcelona, who would then mail it back to Texas by way of the U.S. Consulate. It’s quite the process, but if it means Ted Cruz will be done for, it’s most definitely worth it.”
After applying for her ballot earlier, she received a confusing and convoluted email from her county telling her she was eligible to receive her ballot by email.
“It appears that this is an opportunity for them to email me the ballot so that I don’t have to fear it getting lost in the mail on the way to Europe from the U.S.,” she said. “The absentee process is that much more complicated when working with a less reliable Spanish postal service and a farther distance of travel. The wording is pretty confusing in the email. This is what I’ve gathered after reading it like five times.”
Fabris-Green elaborated on her frustrations.
“The only irritating thing is that I’ve already applied for my ballot to arrive in the mail so essentially I’m now engaging in a second application process. Basically, I wish this email option had been clear to me from the get-go.”
She also described a further lack of information that others experienced about when the ballot will actually arrive and by when it needs to be sent back to Texas.
Voting is a constitutional right, but many Texans feel that the state discourages us from voting. It has been at the forefront of disputes about strict voter ID laws in the Supreme Court. Regarding ballots by mail in particular, not everyone has the time to deal with the bureaucratic, convoluted form.
Furthermore, discouraging news has come out within the last week about the state’s negligence hurting potential voters. The link to the voter registration application on the secretary of state’s website was down for much of Saturday. The Texas Democratic Party told the Texas Tribune that the situation was unacceptable.
“Voting should be easy and accessible for everyone,” said party spokesman Josh Stewart. “With three days left to register to vote, Texans deserve better.”
The chair of the Texas Republican Party, James Dickey, acknowledged the issue as well and suggested that people register at a local GOP office. Texas is one of 12 states that does not allow online voter registration.
Earlier in the week, the state rejected 2,400 voter registration forms just six days before the deadline because the applicants used digital photographs of their signatures instead of handwritten ones.
18 to 25 year olds are the group with the lowest voter turnout in the state (and country), and young voters tend to skew more liberal than older ones, who turn out at the highest rate. Texas laws favor certain voters, as the strict voter ID laws allow use of certain forms of identification such as military IDs and gun licenses but the state is one of only six in the nation that does not allow use of a student ID.
While Texans like myself outside the state work to get our ballots in in time, we hope for strong voter turnout among those our age, despite the obstacles, this November. Unfortunately, voting in the state is often complicated and discouraging, and for some, an arduous, drawn-out, and frustrating process.
Nick Yeager can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.