Mail-in ballot applications OK’d for 65 and over

The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court approved a motion to send applications for mail-in ballots to residents who are ages 65 and over during a special meeting Tuesday.

Prior to their discussion, the commissioners held a public forum in which residents shared their support or opposition to the mail-in ballot applications.

The recommendation from the county election board was for the commissioners court to mail out the applications to all residents who are ages 65 and over.

Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramón explained that this would be the first time the county has sent out applications for the mail-in ballots.

“No county has ever sent out applications,” Ramón said during the meeting, which was held virtually with County Judge Richard F. Cortez, Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes, Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu, Precinct 4 Commissioner Ellie Torres, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Josephine Ramirez-Solis and Executive Officer Valde Guerra.

“Due to the circumstances, and these are challenging and unique circumstances, there are other counties that did do that during the primary runoff. Hidalgo County has never,” Ramón added.

The motion was made by Cantu and seconded by Fuentes before passing.

Prior to the vote, Ramón emphasized the need to understand that Tuesday’s discussion was about the applications being sent to voters who are elderly or disabled and not the ballots themselves.

“We are talking about the application to request a ballot by mail,” Ramón said. “We in the elections department are here to follow and administer whatever this commissioners court decides. We are here to administer and do as you ask us to do, and we will follow through and we will make sure that it is done to the best of our ability and it is done well.”

There are 384,198 registered voters in Hidalgo County, of which 69,438 are ages 65 and over. 6,500 have already applied to vote by mail.

For perspective, there were 44,449 registered voters ages 65 and over in 2016, of which 173 voted by mail.

The cost to send out the mail-in ballot applications will cost the county about $40,000, which will be paid for with funding from the general budget.

Ramón said that the elections department would continue to implement preventive COVID-19 measures for all election workers and voters who show up to polling locations.

“We will provide a mask and gloves,” Ramón said. “We have extra (personal protective equipment) on hand, so any voter that comes to the polling location, we are there to serve them.”

The elections administrator said that voters who choose to use the mail-in ballots will be able to drop them off at the elections department, located at 213 S. Closner Blvd. in Edinburg.

She explained that unlike recent elections, voters will be able to drop off the mail-in ballots as soon as they get them as opposed to other times when they could only be turned in on Election Day. However, a voter ID will be required upon dropping off the ballot.

She added that there are plans to designate parking spaces for individuals who wish to drop off their mail-in ballots. She said that there will also be curbside drop-off for individuals who may be physically unable to exit their vehicles.

Another important detail shared by Ramón was that there will be no straight-party voting.

“Except either by personal appearance at a polling site or if you request your ballot by mail, this will be required now that you vote by race,” Ramón said. “No longer will there be that option where you just fill in your choice of party, so please, please be prepared.”

Anyone who chooses to vote by mail should expect ballots to be mailed out on Friday, Sept. 18.

Ramón said that the department always tries to mail the ballots out to voters 45 days before Election Day. This year, the day actually falls on Sept. 19, which is a Saturday, but the department decided to move the day up one day to that Friday.

“That is the federal mandate,” Ramón said. “By that date, the ballot needs to have been sent out to our military and to any overseas voter that is outside the United States. That for us is a key deadline.”

The last day to register to vote is Monday, Oct. 5. Early voting will begin on Tuesday, Oct. 13, and end on Friday, Oct. 30. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.