Election 2024

How to vote in the Houston area for the 2024 primary elections

Find out where to vote and when, what you can bring to the polls, what services are available and how to ensure your vote is counted.

Voting Sign
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Voters in the Houston area will soon cast their ballots for the 2024 primary elections.

The upcoming primary elections for the Democratic and Republican parties will set the stage for November, when voters in the Houston area will help decide the race for United States president while also determining who will represent them in Congress, the Texas Legislature and in Harris County government.

So let’s first set the stage for the March 5 primaries as the early voting period, which starts Feb. 20, is fast approaching. Harris County will be holding joint primaries for the first time, meaning both Democrats and Republicans will cast their ballots on the same machines at the same voting locations.

Most eligible voters in Texas can vote in either party’s primary, regardless of prior political affiliation, by declaring which ballot they would like upon arriving at a polling location or when they apply for a mail ballot. Voters cannot switch parties between a primary election and a primary runoff. However, voting in one party’s primary or runoff does not require a person to vote for that same party’s candidates in the subsequent general election.

To be decided by voters this March are the parties’ nominees for president, with Republican Donald Trump again seeking to hold the office after losing to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. Longtime U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee from Houston is seeking re-election but first hoping to survive what figures to be a hotly contested Democratic primary against Amanda Edwards, while several other Democrats are vying to succeed new Houston Mayor John Whitmire in Texas Senate District 15, a seat he had held since the early 1980s.

Other races for Congress and the Texas House and Texas Senate, along with competitions for judicial seats and Harris County district attorney, sheriff and constables also are among those on the ballots.

Ahead of Election Day, scheduled for March 5, Houston Public Media is providing a detailed guide for Houston-area voters to make sure they know where to go and when, what to bring, and how to ensure their votes are counted and their voices are heard.

REGISTRATION INFORMATION

First things first. Are you registered to vote?

The state-imposed deadline has passed for registering to vote in the March 5 primaries, but residents can verify their registration status before going to the polls. A statewide search tool is available on the website of the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

Voters in Harris County, which includes Houston, can check their registration status at Harris Votes.

EARLY VOTING

Early voting across Texas begins Tuesday, Feb. 20, and concludes Friday, March 1. Any registered voter can choose to vote during the early voting period instead of waiting until Election Day, when lines at polling places could be longer.

Many counties, including Harris County, allow their voters to cast ballots at any polling location within their jurisdiction, regardless of where they live. Other counties may require voters to go to the polling location in their home precinct.

Check with your local voter registrar or elections office to see where they allow you to vote and when polls are open during early voting as times can vary from county to county. Some counties’ procedures for early voting may differ from their protocols on Election Day.

In Harris County, all 79 early voting locations will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 20-24 and Feb. 26-March 1. Polls also will be open from noon to 7 p.m. Feb. 25, which is a Sunday.

ELECTION DAY

Polls will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. statewide on Tuesday, March 5. As long as a voter is in line at a polling location by 7 p.m., they will be allowed to vote.

As with early voting, some Houston-area counties allow voters to cast ballots at any polling location within their jurisdiction, whereas others require voters to vote in their home precincts. Harris County allows voters to cast ballots at any of its 545 polling locations on Election Day.

WHAT YOU CAN BRING

Voters should bring forms of photo identification or other materials that confirm their identity and right to vote in the election (see more on this below). They also can bring sample ballots and handwritten notes.

No phones, tablets, laptops, cameras or any device that can communicate wirelessly or record sound or images may be used inside a polling location or within 100 feet of one.

Voters likely will notice 100-foot markers as they approach a polling place. Within that 100-foot space, no one is allowed to post, use or distribute any signs or literature relating to a candidate, political party, or measure appearing on the ballot in that election.

Voters who need assistance casting their ballots, including for translation purposes, are permitted to bring one other person to help them – as long as that person is not their employer, an agent of their employer, or an officer or agent of their union. These voters must notify the presiding election judge so the helper can take an oath and sign paperwork swearing they are not forcing the voter to cast a ballot against their will and are not persuading the voter to vote a certain way.

WHAT YOU CAN WEAR

Texas law prohibits voters from wearing clothing, hats, buttons and other forms of apparel at the polls if those items relate to a candidate, political party or measure appearing on the ballot in the current election. However, apparel related to candidates, parties or measures that are not on the ballot are allowed inside polling locations.

For example, a red “Make America Great Again” hat would not be allowed, since former President Donald Trump is a candidate in this year’s Republican primary. A t-shirt with a photo of former President Barack Obama would be allowed, since he is not on either ballot.

ACCEPTABLE FORMS OF ID

Registered voters can cast provisional ballots without any form of identification, but that requires some legwork after voting. To ensure your civic duty is fulfilled as soon as you cast your ballot, bring one of the following forms of photo ID to your polling location:

  • Texas Driver’s License or ID card issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
  • Texas Handgun License issued by DPS
  • U.S. citizenship certificate containing a photo
  • Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS
  • U.S. passport (book or card)
  • U.S. military ID containing a photo

With the exception of the citizenship certificate, the ID presented must be valid or, for voters aged 18-69, have expired no more than four years beforehand. For voters who are 70 or older, there are no time limits regarding an expired ID.

Voters with no approved photo ID may apply for an Election Identification Certificate from DPS at no charge.

If voters do not have any of the aforementioned forms of photo ID, they can fill out a Reasonable Impediment Declaration and show a copy or original of one of the following forms of ID:

  • A government document that shows their name and address, including a voter registration certificate
  • Current utility bill
  • Bank statement
  • Government check
  • Paycheck

Also acceptable is a certified domestic birth certificate or document confirming birth that is admissible in a court of law that establishes identity. This could include a birth document from a foreign country.

The Reasonable Impediment Declaration form can be found online.

If voters are unable to provide identification or one of the aforementioned supporting documents, they can vote provisionally by signing a provisional affidavit and curing their ballot within six days after the election. They can cure their ballots by bringing an approved form of photo ID to their local voter registrar or elections office.

EXEMPTIONS: Voters with a disability may apply with their county voter registrar for a permanent exemption to showing an acceptable photo ID or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure at the polls. Voters with a religious objection to being photographed, or those who do not present an acceptable form of photo ID or follow the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure at the polls because of certain natural disasters, may apply for a temporary exemption to those requirements. Voters should contact their local voter registrar for more details about those exemptions.

VOTING BY MAIL

Texans who meet certain requirements can receive and cast ballots by mail instead of voting at a polling location. Voters in the following groups are eligible to vote by mail:

  • Age 65 or older on Election Day
  • Sick or disabled
  • Will be out of their home county during early voting and on Election Day
  • Expected to give birth within three weeks before or after Election Day
  • Jailed but otherwise eligible to vote

The deadline to request a mail ballot is no later than the 11th day before Election Day, which in the case of the upcoming midterm is Friday, Feb. 23.

Per the requirements outlined in Senate Bill 1, the elections law passed in 2021 by the Texas Legislature, all mail-ballot applications as well as submitted mail ballots must include one of the following identification numbers that match what is on the voter’s registration record: Texas Driver’s License or state-issued ID number, Texas Election Identification Certificate number or the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security Number. Voters can help ensure their mail-ballot applications and submitted mail ballots are accepted by including all the aforementioned ID numbers that apply to them.

In Harris County, ballot-by-mail applications sent through the United States Postal Service can be mailed to the Harris County Clerk’s Office, P.O. Box 1148, Houston, Texas, 77251-1148. Applications sent by a common or contract carrier should be delivered to the Harris County Clerk’s Office, 1001 Preston St., 4th Floor, Houston, Texas, 77002.

Harris County voters also can fax their mail-ballot applications to 713-755-4983 or email them to vbm@harrisvotes.com. But if applications are faxed or emailed, the original application must still be sent by traditional mail and received by the voting clerk no later than the fourth business day after it was received by fax or email.

Voting-by-mail applicants who are at least 65 years old or disabled qualify to submit an annual application, which means they’ll receive mail ballots for all elections during a calendar year. Those can be submitted from Jan. 1 until no later than the 11th day before Election Day (Feb. 23 for this election).

If mail-ballot applicants decide to instead vote in person, they can do so by bringing their mail ballot to surrender at the polling location. If they do not bring their unused mail ballot, they can vote provisionally.

Completed mail ballots must be postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received by 5 p.m. on the first mail delivery day after Election Day. If they are sent by common or contract carrier – such as a personal courier, FedEx or UPS – ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Or, if the carrier provides a receipt mark indicating a time before 7 p.m., the ballot may be received by 5 p.m. on the next mail delivery day.

In Harris County, mail ballots also can be dropped off in person at 1001 Preston St., between 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on March 5. Only the voter can make the dropoff and must present an acceptable form of photo ID. If the voter does not have an ID, they may show one of the aforementioned supporting identification documents and complete a Reasonable Impediment Declaration.

Ballots from voters who are out of the country must be received by the voting clerk no later than the fifth day after Election Day. Ballots from military voters must be received by the voting clerk no later than the sixth day after Election Day.

Do the following when completing and submitting a mail ballot:

  • Use black or blue ink
  • Place the completed ballot in the envelope and seal it
  • Place the sealed envelope in the enclosed pre-addressed carrier envelope
  • Provide the appropriate ID number or numbers underneath the flap of the carrier-envelope
  • Seal the carrier envelope and sign where indicated, using the same signature as used on the mail ballot application
  • Place the appropriate postage and send

The Harris County Clerk’s Office also recommends including contact information, such as a phone number or email address, so voters can be contacted by elections office staff to resolve any mistakes or omissions. Harris County voters can call 713-755-6965 for mail-ballot assistance in English, Spanish, Chinese or Vietnamese.

Mail ballots in Harris County can be tracked online at https://www.harrisvotes.com/Voter/Mail-Ballot-Tracking.

VOTING MACHINES

Both electronic voting and paper ballots are utilized in Harris County, where voters will receive two sheets of paper along with an access code. They will insert the first piece of paper into a voting machine, where they will make selections electronically before printing and reviewing their choices. Then they will be prompted to insert the second sheet of paper and repeat the process.

If mistakes are identified, voters should tell an election worker. They can make corrections up to two times.

To cast their votes, Harris County voters will insert the printed, filled-out sheets of paper into a scanning machine. An American flag will appear on the screen after each sheet is inserted, indicating the process is complete.

VOTING ACCESSIBILITY

Voters with disabilities – including hearing, vision and mobility impairments – have resources available to them as required by law.

Curbside voting is available for those who cannot physically enter a polling place. Such voters may ask an election officer to bring a ballot to a parked vehicle at a polling place’s designated curbside location. After marking their ballots, curbside voters can give them to the election officer or, at their request, to a companion who will then submit the completed ballot.

Voters with mobility limitations can ask an election official for voting order priority, which will prevent them from having to stand in line. Whether that priority is granted is up to the presiding election judge.

In addition to curbside voting, Harris County provides the following forms of voter assistance:

  • The ballot is available in four languages: English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese
  • Voting machines let you increase the font size or contrast on the screen
  • Accessibility booths that are wider and have a separate control to accommodate mobility devices or a chair
  • Voting machines can hook up to components for voters with disabilities (such as headphones and Sip and Puff devices)

The voting machines in Harris County are equipped with two large buttons as an accessibility aid. They’re plugged into a standard 3.5-mm jack to allow for voters’ own input devices. Headphones and narration also are available to the visually impaired.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES

Voters can apply for a late ballot because of sickness or disability, between the last day of early voting (March 1) and 5 p.m. on Election Day. In order to qualify for a late ballot, the sickness or disability must originate on or after the 12th day before Election Day.

Voters may also apply for a late ballot due to a death in their immediate family that occurred on or after the fifth day before Election Day and causes them to be absent from their home county on Election Day.

SAMPLE BALLOTS

Sample ballots, which can help voters study candidates and propositions and make their choices before going to the polls, are available online. Visit the website for the elections office in your county to find sample ballots and other elections-related information.

Links for the elections offices in the Houston area are below:

Austin County

Brazoria County

Chambers County

Colorado County

Fort Bend County

Galveston County

Harris County

Liberty County

Matagorda County

Montgomery County

Walker County

Waller County

Wharton County