If you can, request mail-in ballot and vote

Yusuf Shafi

On July 14, several key runoff elections will be happening in Travis County. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 will limit thousands of students' ability to go to the polls. Now more than ever, students need to apply for mail in ballots to make sure their voices are heard. 

While runoff elections for Travis County district attorney, county commissioner, county attorney and the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate were initially scheduled for May 26, Gov. Greg Abbott recently postponed all runoff elections in the state until July 14 in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. While this decision may better the health and safety of voters, it risks marginalizing students by scheduling election dates during a time when many students will not be on campus. 

Traditionally, runoff elections generate tremendously low turnout numbers. In 2018, only 3.45% of eligible voters voted in the Travis County joint runoff election. If student participation decreases, voter participation is also at risk of dropping.

Fortunately for students who traditionally reside on campus during the semester but are now located in a different county due to COVID-19, mail-in ballots are an open option. Texas voting law strictly dictates that in order to qualify for a mail-in ballot, a person must be 65 years or older, disabled or out of the county at the time of the election; if this situation applies to you, request a mail-in ballot here

Unfortunately, for students who still reside in Travis County and may not want to attend the polls due to concerns about their health, mail-in ballots are not an option. The Texas Democratic Party is currently in the process of creating a legal pathway to allow voters to apply for mail-in ballots regardless of their status; however, nothing has been determined yet. 

Big ticket races like the presidential election boost voter excitement, but smaller races such as the district attorney race have real world implications for the lives of students. José Garza is a district attorney candidate who was endorsed by The Daily Texan Editorial Board in March. His platform ushers in important messages that promote dialogue between survivors and the DA office while also promising to abolish outdated practices, such as the cash bail system, that keep marginalized groups behind bars. While Garza won the plurality of the vote on March 3, engagement in the runoff election — especially student engagement — could determine the outcome of the race.   

Our voices yield legitimate results, especially in local elections. We need to recognize this privilege and, if we have the ability to, request mail-in ballots. These races change real world aspects of our lives. While COVID-19 has placed many students in disadvantageous positions, it has also expanded many students' ability to vote.

Voting is one of the most important rights we have as citizens. Now more than ever, we need to exercise it. 

Shafi is a government junior from Round Rock, Texas.