NBC 5 Responds: Voters Wait for Mail-In Ballot Applications After a Record Number of Requests

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For just over three weeks, Dallas County voter Janet Lee waited for an application for a ballot by mail.

“From one week to the next, I kind of gave it the benefit of the doubt,” Lee said. “Maybe it’s going to come this week; I was very watchful.”

Lee said she requested it through the Texas Secretary of State’s Office website on Sept. 29. When she checked her mail Wednesday morning, she said the application finally arrived. It was postmarked Oct. 16.

By Wednesday, she said she was racing to get it to the Dallas County Elections Department.

“A little frustrated up to the point of today having to still go out myself and being proactive and hopefully making sure they receive it,” said Lee.

“I'm a baby boomer,” explained Lee. It’s affecting a lot of the baby boomers that would have relied on voting by mail. Maybe that's their most convenient option. For some of them, it’s their only option.”

Lee is not the only voter to contact NBC 5 Responds about waiting for a ballot by mail application after a major increase in the number of requests, state-wide.

According to the Office of the Secretary of State, it received 71,322 requests for ballot by mail applications in 2016. For the November 3 election, the number of requests shot up to 470,288. That’s a 559% increase this year over the last presidential election.

The office won’t say how many staff are handling the requests but said it offered overtime and comp time to other agency employees to join the elections division in managing the increased workload.

“Much like other agencies and businesses across our state operating under current coronavirus restrictions, members of our elections staff are currently teleworking or working after-hour shifts to manage the increased workload,” Stephen Chang, Director of Communications for the Office of the Secretary of State, wrote in an email to NBC 5 Responds.

Early Voting Wait Times

Voting locations are open at different times on different days. Click here to see a schedule by county. Anyone standing in line at when the polling location closes will be allowed to vote.

According to Chang, the office is also handling a dramatic increase in the number of returned mail because of incomplete or bad addresses provided to the state.

“It appears that third parties (political parties, non-profit organizations, etc.) have been using our website request link to get forms sent at state expense to voters who did not actually request them,” Chang wrote. “This has resulted in an increased number of requests for blank forms as well as returned mail items because of inaccurate data provided by these parties/requestors.”

Voters have the option to print out the ballot by mail application themselves, sign it and get it to their election office. Voters without a printer at home would have to try their local library or a print service.

Once a voter gets the mail-in ballot application to the county where they’re registered, the county elections office is responsible for sending the ballot to the voter. You can find a list of all the county election administrators in the state here.

Lee said she tried to call her local elections department in Dallas County about her ballot application.

“I was hoping to be able to trace what’s going on with it,” she said.

Lee told NBC 5 the worker on the phone told her the office was overwhelmed and referred her back to the online application.

Lee said top elections officials should have anticipated the higher demand for mail-in voting during the pandemic.

“Regardless of what level of government or which agency within the government it was, they should have been better prepared. You still have to service the citizens,” Lee said.

If you want to vote by mail in this election, you have to get your application into your county elections office by Friday, October 23rd. That is not a postmark deadline. The elections office must receive your application by Friday. It is likely too late to mail the application.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, you have the option to scan, sign and email or fax an application in. You will have to mail the original copy to your local election office. It must receive the hard copy within four business days of your email or faxed application.

Remember, curbside voting is still an option if you can’t physically go into a polling place.

NBC 5 is committed to protecting your right to vote.  If you have an issue you’d like to us to investigate, email us at investigate@nbcdfw.com.

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