Nearly eight million votes were cast in Texas during the 2012 Presidential election. For many, voting is a civic duty and patriotic right. But if you're new to Houston — or new to voting — it can be an intimidating process.
Check out these six important steps to voting in Houston.
Register in Advance
In order to vote in Houston, you need to register to vote in Harris County at least a month before Election Day and meet all of the following requirements:
- You’re at least 18 years old (or 17 years and 10 months on the date of your registration application).
- You’re a U.S. citizen.
- You haven’t judged incompetent by a court.
- You haven’t been a convicted felon — or if you have been, you’ve successfully fulfilled all incarceration, parole or probation periods, or you have been pardoned
- You’re a resident of Harris County.
If you aren’t sure if you are registered, you can find out by going to the Texas Secretary of State’s website.
Once you’re sure you’re eligible and that you aren’t already registered, you can get a registration application from the county clerk’s office online, via e-mail or at any number of government offices, such as a public library or post office. And then mail it to the county clerk’s office:
P.O. Box 3527
Houston, TX 77253-3527
Are you already registered to vote? Great! Even so, it’s a good idea to make sure your registration is current and update your address on your registration if you’ve moved recently.
Know What's on the Ballot
While national races often dominate the headlines, local and state elections can have a huge impact on your day-to-day life.
The Texas Railroad Commissioner, for example, is one of the most powerful elected officials in the state. Contrary to what the name suggests, the commission no longer manages the railroads, but instead has grown to oversee regulations governing the oil and gas industry — a major force in Houston’s economy and one that employs tens of thousands of people in the city either directly and indirectly.
Those elected to the Texas state legislature or the city council have the ability to influence laws and policies that could influence how much you pay in taxes or restrict what can be bought and sold when. The district judges, school district officials, the county sheriff — all can make decisions that may affect you in some way.
To find out what’s on your ballot, start by figuring out who represents you and in what district you reside. Once you know what races to look out for, check out some nonpartisan voting guides like the one put out every election by the League of Women Voters of the Houston Area to help you learn a little about the candidates running, as well as the propositions or proposed amendments that will also be on the ballot.
Decide Whether to Vote Early
In Texas any registered voter can vote early, regardless of where they'll be on Election Day.
The benefits of doing so are plentiful: it's really convenient. Lines aren't nearly as long. There's usually plenty of parking. And you can choose which of the roughly 50 polling station is most convenient for you.
The downsides? You lose a little of that shared community and bustle of excitement that comes with everyone casting their vote on the same day. Either way, however, you'll probably get an "I Voted" sticker.
Early voting starts 17 days before Election Day and goes until the fourth day before the election. Hours vary, but polls typically open around 8 a.m. and go til 6 p.m., with shorter hours on Sunday.
A full list of dates and hours is available on the county clerk’s website.
Note: If you are registered to vote but won't be in Houston during the early voting period or on Election Day, you can submit an absentee ballot. You'll need to first download an application to vote by mail, and then once a ballot is sent to you, follow the instructions to ensure that it is received on time.
Find Your Polling Place
Regardless of whether you're voting early or on Election Day, you need to know where to go.
If you're voting early, you can choose any one of the early voting locations in the county. A map of the locations is available on the county clerk's website.
On Election Day, however, you must go to the location of your precinct. There are more than a thousand designated voting sites on Election Day, so be sure to look up your designated polling station in advance.
Know What to Bring
In Texas, you have to present one of the following approved photo IDs at the polling place in order to vote:
- Texas driver license
- Texas personal ID card
- U.S. military ID
- U.S. passport
- Texas Election Identification Certificate
- Texas license to carry a handgun
- U.S. citizenship certificate (with photo)
All must be current or, with the exception of the citizenship certificate, expired less than four years ago.
If you don't have an approved ID and can't reasonably obtain one, you can fill out a declaration at the polling place and present one of a number of approved supporting documents, including an original birth certificate or utility bill.
While any of the above is accepted, having a Texas driver license or personal ID can make things go faster at the polls.
Tell Your Friends
Less than half of Texans of voting age turned out to vote in the 2012 Presidential election. If you want to encourage your friends and family to vote, too, here are a few things you can do:
- Take them to register to vote.
- Share nonpartisan voting guides to help them better understand what's on the ballot.
- Carpool to the polling place together.
- Take an "I Voted" selfie and posting it to social media.