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Election Advisory No. 2020-20

To: County Clerks/Elections Administrators and County Chairs
From: Keith Ingram, Director of Elections
Keith Ingram's signature
Date: July 2, 2020
RE: Processing and Counting Early Voting By Mail Ballots

Introduction

The purpose of this advisory is to assist election officials in preparing for processing and counting early voting by mail ballots. A number of counties have reported receiving an increased number of applications for a ballot by mail. This will likely result in a larger number of mail ballots that must be reviewed by the Early Voting Ballot Board (“EVBB”). The ballots will then be counted by the EVBB or at the central counting station, whichever is applicable in that county.

The Secretary of State’s office strongly recommends that counties plan for an increase in mail ballots by convening their EVBB as early as possible, and as permitted by the Texas Election Code, to ensure ballots are processed and counted, and the results are tabulated, in a timely manner.

Qualifying Mail Ballots by the Early Voting Ballot Board

Counties with a population of 100,000 or more

For counties with a population of 100,000 or more, or entities having joint elections with such a county, the early voting ballot board may convene to begin processing and qualifying mail ballots by the 12th day before election day. (Section 87.0241). The early voting clerk shall continuously post notice for 24 hours preceding each delivery of voting materials made before the polls open on election day. (Section 87.0222(b)). At least 24 hours before each delivery, the early voting clerk shall notify the county chair of each political party having a nominee on the ballot of the time the delivery is to be made. (Section 87.0222(c)).

Counties with a population of less than 100,000

For counties with a population of less than 100,000, the early voting ballot board may convene to begin processing and qualifying mail ballots after the polls close on the last day of in-person early voting. (Sections 87.024-87.0241). The early voting clerk shall continuously post notice for 24 hours preceding each delivery of voting materials that is to be made before the time for opening the polls on election day. (Section 87.0222(b)). At least 24 hours before each delivery, the early voting clerk shall notify the county chair of each political party having a nominee on the ballot of the time the delivery is to be made. (Section 87.0222(c)).

Activities included in Qualifying and Processing

When the early voting ballot board meets to qualify ballots, they shall determine whether to accept the voter’s ballot. A ballot may only be accepted if (1) the carrier envelope has been properly executed; (2) neither the voter’s signature on the ballot application nor the signature on the carrier envelope is determined to have been executed by a person other than the voter, unless signed by a witness; (3) the voter’s ballot application states a legal ground for early voting by mail; (4) the voter is registered to vote; (5) the ballot was mailed to the applicable address; and (6) if required, the statement of residence was included and properly completed. (Section 87.041). For more details about the qualifying process, please see our Early Voting Ballot Board Handbook.

For ballots that are accepted, the early voting ballot board will enter the voter’s name on the poll list and separate the ballot from the carrier envelope. The separated ballots will be counted by the ballot board or the central counting station, whichever is applicable for the county.

Scanning of Mail Ballots

For those counties that tabulate mail ballots with a scanner, if the county’s certified scanning device is capable of scanning the ballots without tabulating the results, the county may begin scanning the ballots during the time that a county may process or qualify mail ballots. This should be done only by authorized early voting ballot board or central counting station personnel. Poll watchers may be present during these activities. NOTE: Results may not be released until after the polls close on election day.

For questions as to whether your scanner is capable of scanning ballots without producing a tabulation, please contact your voting system vendor or our office for more details.

Counting of Mail Ballots

Ballots voted by mail may be counted by either the early voting ballot board or the central counting station, as determined by the county election officer.

Counties with a population of 100,000 or more

For counties with a population of 100,000 or more, or entities that are having joint elections with such a county, the county may begin counting mail ballots after the polls close on the last day of in-person early voting. (Section 87.0241). Results may not be released until the polls close on election day.

Counties with a population of less than 100,000

For counties with a population of less than 100,000 mail ballots may not be counted until the polls open on election day. (Section 87.0241). Results may not be released until the polls close on election day.

Mail Ballot Results

All mail ballots received by 7:00 p.m. on election day must be qualified by the early voting ballot board and, if accepted, counted on election day. Early voting clerks should arrange to check their mail at 7:00 p.m. to ensure that any ballots received are appropriately processed on election night. These ballots will be included in any results that are released on election night.

Later Arriving Mail Ballots

There are certain ballots that may arrive after election day, but can still be qualified and counted. Late ballots fall into three categories:

All of these ballots must be qualified by the early voting ballot board and subsequently counted by the early voting ballot board or central counting station, whichever is applicable. The results from these accepted mail ballots must be added to the canvassed vote totals.

An increase in mail ballots may result in a larger number of ballots counted after election day. A large number of outstanding mail ballots may affect the ability to determine outcomes for close races on election night. Please be sure to communicate with your voters, candidates, and workers that results are not final until they are canvassed after election night, as canvassed results include eligible late arriving mail ballots and provisional votes.

KI:CA