OK, Texans. Let's get ready to vote.
The prelims are over. It's time to prepare for the Nov. 3 general election – including for president.
First, be sure you're registered to vote. In Texas, you must be registered by at least 30 days before any election to vote in it. For Nov. 3, that registration deadline is Oct. 5. If you've already voted in primary and/or runoff elections this year, you're almost certain to be registered.
If you've moved, have changed your name, or are new to Texas, you may want to double-check that you are indeed registered. Go online to either VoteTexas.gov or Register2Vote.org to check your registration status (Register2Vote.org is more user-friendly). Both sites will have instructions for registering if needed.
If you need to register, we suggest starting soon. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a slump in the usual in-person voter registration – at county courthouses, elections offices and other places – particularly connected to driver’s license applications and renewals. From March through May, registrations were less than half their normal pace during previous election years.
Registrations surged in June, surpassing the rate for a similar period in 2016, the last presidential election year. Election officials predict a lot more registrations by the Oct. 5 deadline to vote Nov. 3. So, better to avoid a last-minute rush. Sooner is better than later – particularly as a rash of legal squabbles continue over whether Texas will join most other states in allowing universal mail-in voting.
In addition to the pandemic challenges, universal mail-in voting would help cope with the fact that the Texas Legislature did away with straight-ticket voting for the 2020 election. That means that if you're among the more than half of Texans who choose the straight-ticket option to vote for all Republicans or all Democrats, you can't do that this year. To vote for all candidates of one party, you'll have to go down the ballot, and mark them one by one.
This change was passed in the 2017 legislative session, on a mostly party-line vote with Republicans for it, and Democrats against. Driving the Republicans was that, mostly in urban areas, their little-known incumbents down the ballot, for offices like district judge or justice of the peace, could be swept out by straight-ticket voters. The Republicans justified it as requiring voters to have some idea who they're voting for.
However, in urban areas, there will be several dozen offices up for election – which could take a lot of time to vote on – which is expected to slow down in-person elections considerably. The change makes universal mail-in voting more attractive, because it will allow voters to actually have time to give the thought and do some research about who they are actually voting for, without holding up a line of people waiting to vote.
However, Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton, a Republican, seems bent on opposing the efforts to allow every Texas voter under age 65 who chooses to do so to vote by mail – especially during the efforts to prevent spreading the COVID-19 pandemic. Under current Texas law, you must be 65 or older, disabled, out of your home county during the election period, or in jail to qualify for mail-in voting.
Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, has finally mandated wearing masks when in public during the pandemic. But he has yet to declare that allowing universal voting by mail is better than risking the lives of you and your family, and of spreading the virus, by requiring voting in person. Abbott has drawn criticism from lots of Democrats with his off-again, on-again approach to the virus and mask-wearing, but he angered some Republicans when he finally invoked his mask mandate on July 2 for counties with more than 20 virus cases.
The governor pushed back at the criticism in a brief recorded speech during the recent (and chaotic) online Republican state convention.
“Now I know that many of all you are frustrated – so am I," Abbott said. "I know that many of you do not like the mask requirement – I don’t either. It is the last thing that I wanted to do. Actually, the next to the last. The last thing that any of us want is to lock Texas back down again. If we don't slow this disease quickly, our hospitals will get overrun, and I fear it will even inflict (cq) some of the people that I'm talking to right now."
Now, we'll see whether the governor's fear extends to allowing universal mail-in voting or inflicting on most Texans the choice between and risking spreading or catching the virus by voting in person or not voting, or whether the U.S. Supreme Court will do it for him.