Poll watchers will be allowed at designated in-person drop-off locations for mail-in ballots, announced Gov. Greg Abbott in a proclamation issued Thursday, Oct. 1. He also proclaimed that counties may have only one designated location for dropping off mail-in ballots before Election Day.
The 2020 election is the first in the state to allow in-person delivery of mail-in ballots before the day of the election. A July proclamation by the governor set up a longer early voting period and allowed for in-person early drop-off of mail-in ballots because of COVID-19 restrictions. Abbott said his new proclamation would enhance security of mail-in ballots.
“The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” he said in a news release. “As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state.”
In Burnet County, the one location to drop off a completed mail-in ballot is Elections Administrator Doug Ferguson’s office at 106 W. Washington in Burnet.
In Llano County, ballots can be dropped off at Elections Administrator Cindy Ware’s office at 1447 Texas 71 East in Llano.
Ballots must be brought in by the voter — the person who filled out the ballot. Each voter must present photo identification and sign a ledger.
Poll watchers have to have signed documents as well. Not just anyone can decide to go watch ballot deliveries. Poll watchers must be certificated by either political party or by a candidate.
“They have to be approved by someone,” Ferguson said. “They have to wear a name badge and show their certification.”
Poll watchers are common on Election Day, both Ware and Ferguson said, but as this is the first time mail-in ballots can be delivered in person before Election Day, it is the first time poll watchers may show up in their offices before Nov. 3.
“If they watch the intake of ballots here, they are going to be standing in a corner,” Ware said with a laugh. “It’s pretty small in here.”
The executive board of the Burnet County Republican Party will be asked if they want to certify poll watchers for mail-in dropoffs, but Chair Kara Chasteen didn’t think they would bother.
“We all play well together here in Burnet County,” she said. “We have not had any issues in the past.”
The Republican Party usually has only one or two poll watchers at the intake location after polls have closed, and not at any of the polling places on Election Day.
“We are there just to make sure that the process is fair and that the ballot boxes are opened according to law,” she said. “There’s a process they have to go through to unlock those boxes. We all want a fair and honest election, whichever party you are with.”
Burnet Democratic Party Chair Mel Hazlewood agreed that they would only have poll watchers on Election Day.
“We are recruiting poll watchers for all precincts,” he said. “We aren’t agitators. There’s an affidavit poll watchers have to sign that says they agree not to cause any disruption or speak to any voters. That will be the instructions we give our poll workers.”
Both election administrators are expecting more mail-in ballots than ever. Already, the number of ballots requested has topped numbers in previous elections.
In Llano County, more than 2,000 voters have requested mail-in ballots. In 2018, 1,400 mail-in ballots were requested.
“They are rolling in every day,” Ware said. “That and voter registration. We are getting stacks of mail every day and will continue to until after the deadline. These numbers are going to go up over the next two weeks.”
In Burnet County, more than 3,000 people have applied for mail-in ballots.
“Before, 2018 was our largest mail-in ballot election so far, and we had a little over 1,900,” Ferguson said. “We’ve already blown away that 2018 number, and it’s still early for ballots.”
Oct. 23 is the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot, which must be postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received by the county clerk by 5 p.m. the following day to be counted.
Early voting for the Nov. 3 election this presidential year is Oct. 13-30.
If you are not already registered, Monday, Oct. 5, is the deadline. If you don’t know if you are registered, visit votetexas.gov to find out.