Decision 2020

Friends Drive From D.C. to Texas to Vote In-Person After Absentee Ballots Don't Arrive

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Two college students and native Texans drove from Washington D.C. to Texas to vote in the 2020 election when their plans to vote absentee could not happen.

Meredith Reilly is a junior at American University in D.C. and told NBC 5 Wednesday, she requested an absentee ballot in August.

“I voted absentee before. I voted in the midterms, never had a problem so I was just planning on doing that again. Then after a few months, my grandma actually looked it up and said my name was not in the system at all. Like, they had not received my absentee ballot request, or hadn’t processed it,” Reilly said. “I was getting kind of discouraged. I’m a political science major. All I do is tell everyone I have ever met how important it is to vote and then here I was thinking I wasn’t going to be able to at all.”

Reilly was not alone. Her classmate and friend Zachary Houdek of Austin was experiencing the same problem.

“I’ve never had a problem with Travis County or waiting by mail before. We’ve done it twice from Washington D.C. in midterms in 2018 and even some of the local races in 2019,” Houdek said.

The two decided Sunday afternoon to drive a rental car from D.C. to Texas. Houdek said they chose not to fly due to coronavirus concerns and costs to last minute flights.

“This is one of the most monumental elections. Probably the most important election some of us will have in our lifetime. It was something we couldn’t just sit out,” Houdek said.

The trip was roughly 1,400 miles. The two arrived in Texas on Monday evening after a stop in Tennessee overnight to sleep for a few hours.

“We would switch out every three hours or so. A lot of caffeine. A lot of long spats of singing Hamilton,” Reilly recalled Wednesday. “My friend who I was with likes electro music, so we would switch out who got the AUX cord. It wasn’t trafficky or anything.”

Dr. Stephanie Martin is a professor of political communication at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and said as a whole, younger voters aged 30 and under are voting at higher rates in this election than four years ago.

“It looks like in Texas, they’re turning out at 5 to 6 times the rate that they turned out in 2016. So, it looks like young voters in Texas are really excited,” Dr. Martin said. “There’s just been this upsurge in politics from both sides in the form of Trump supporters and counter protestors that is now coming to fruition in the 2020 election in a way that is maybe not as unhealthy for a public sphere as it feels with the kind of poisonous discourse that we hear all the time.”

Houdek was able to vote in-person in Austin on Tuesday and Reilly voted in Fort Worth on Wednesday.

“We’re incredibly privileged to be able to do this. The fact that we had the chance to both find that we hadn’t voted and within a couple of hours pack up and drive all the way back to Texas just to make our voices heard is something that shouldn’t have to happen,” he said. “A lot of people can’t make that trip. They can’t even make that trip sometimes to their homes to the ballot places because of work duties or family obligations.”

Reilly is encouraging everyone who is able to vote, to do so.

“If you’re able to come down to your polling station and make your voice heard, it is so important to do that,” she said. “If I can do it, you can do it.”

NBC 5 reached out to both election administrations in Tarrant and Travis counties for clarity on why neither of absentee ballot requests were processed.

In an email, Tarrant County elections administration Heider Garcia explained there was nothing they could if a request does not arrive.

"By law, we have to have the original request in house before a ballot is issued," Heider's email stated.

We have not received a response from Travis County officials as of this writing.

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