It’s too early for voters in Texas to head to the polls, but some of the first votes in the 2016 presidential race are about to be cast here anyway.
Election officials are busy getting ready to send the Nov. 8 ballot to voters who are overseas and out of the country serving in the military — and preparing to log the votes when they are returned.
No one knows whether there will be more or less demand for these overseas and military early ballots this year. But one thing is certain.
“There’s an increasing interest in this election, even if people are ambivalent about the candidates,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “There will be interest in this race.”
In-state Texas voters have to wait a little longer to weigh in on the presidential race — casting votes for Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Donald Trump, or any of the third party or write-in candidates — as well as the rest of the state and local races on the ballot.
Even though voters in some other states, such as South Dakota and Minnesota, are already starting to vote, most Texans will have to wait another month to cast early ballots.
Early voting in Texas runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 11.
Military and overseas
Tarrant County election officials are busy reviewing absentee ballot requests and preparing to send them out Friday.
They are still tallying requests, but are preparing more than 1,850 local ballots to send to overseas and military voters this year, according to Tarrant County election records.
Four years ago, 4,095 local ballots were sent to overseas and military voters, archived reports show.
Now, at a time when at least 120 million voters across the country are expected to cast ballots, the military and oversees portion will be “a small fraction” of the overall vote, Jillson said.
But there is a great deal of interest in making sure overseas U.S. military members and their families get their ballots.
“You always hear about the oversees vote … and whether it’s going smoothly,” Jillson said. “These people are in harm’s way serving the nation overseas and should have every opportunity to participate in the election.”
New estimates show that there are around 2.6 million people who are eligible to vote who are living abroad or active in the military.
In 2014, just 4 percent of these voters cast ballots. In 2012, 5 percent of these voters sent in their ballots.
But this year, in such an unusual election year, overseas and military turnout might be higher.
“While we can expect to see an increase in the overall voting rates for the 2016 presidential election, we need to understand whether the overall rate for 2014 is due to low awareness of how to vote absentee or if it is related to other factors,” said Matt Boehmer, director of the federal program.
Ballots are now being processed for those who asked for them.
Once returned, these votes — if received in Texas by Nov. 14 — will be counted and added to the tally before the state’s overall vote is certified.
Who is registered?
Absentee ballots are a popular option for in-state Texans.
More than 31,000 Tarrant County voters asked for, and returned, mail-in ballots for the 2012 presidential election, Texas Secretary of State records show.
These may be requested by anyone who doesn’t plan to be in town on Election Day or during early voting, anyone with a disability, anyone 65 or older or anyone in jail not convicted of a felony.
Anyone local seeking an absentee ballot must return their application to the Tarrant County Elections office by Oct. 28.
Anyone planning to vote should make sure they are registered to vote.
If you don’t know whether you are registered, you can look it up online at votetexas.gov. If you aren’t registered, you can fill out an application and turn it in to the local elections office by Oct. 11.
More than14.8 million Texans are registered to vote this year, topping 14.2 million registered in March and 13.6 million registered in November 2012.
Texans who are 18 years old by Election Day may vote. High school students near that age, who haven’t registered to vote, should be able to register with their principal, Texas Secretary of State Carlos H. Cascos said recently.
“Texas law has a unique provision that requires high school principals, or their designees, to serve as a voter registrar,” Cascos said. “I encourage all high school principals to offer this opportunity before the October 11 registration deadline for the November election.”
So far, a record 14.8 million Texans are registered to vote this year, Secretary of State records show.
That tops previous high marks of 14.2 million registered earlier this year for the presidential primaries and 13.6 million registered for the 2012 November presidential election, records show.