Hidalgo Co. to discuss mail-in ballot applications for 65 and up

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County Commissioners will discuss Tuesday whether to send a mail-in ballot application to everyone 65 years or older for the November general election.

Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon briefed commissioners last week on several issues her office is facing as it deals with the upcoming presidential election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps the biggest change comes in the form of a proclamation from Gov. Greg Abbott.

“The governor issued a proclamation where now early vote has been extended by six days. So we will have a total of 18 early voting days beginning on October 13, that’s a Tuesday, and ending on a Friday, October 30,” Ramon told commissioners Tuesday.

Abbott also made changes to when a voter can drop off a mail-in ballot at the elections office.

“A second item on this proclamation is very important because the law before allowed a voter — on Election Day only — to be able to walk in a mail ballot….now the governor has extended it,” she said. “What happens now is, the moment a voter receives a mail-in ballot, they are able to turn right around after they have completed this ballot and walk it into the main office.”

Ramon also noted the proclamation doesn’t indicate that a voter has to wait for early voting to begin to submit their mail-in ballot.

“It states any time after the voter has received his ballot or her ballot, they could walk it into the elections office. So that’s very, very important for our voters to understand this,” Ramon said.

The elections administrator also prepped commissioners about a topic that will be up for discussion this coming week.

“The county election board met and they would like for an item to be presented to commissioners’ court whereby you all will discuss and decide on a possible mail out for all voters who are 65 and older to receive an application for ballot by mail from the elections department,” Ramon said. “So I’m letting you know now so that if you have any questions or would like anything cleared before then, you have an opportunity to ask me.”

The discussion will come amid a national debate over the U.S. Postal Service and its role in the upcoming election. Trump loyalist Louis DeJoy, who was appointed postmaster general in May, is facing criticism for removing equipment that is central to counting ballots. Critics argue DeJoy and the president are trying to suppress votes, while supporters point to the service’s long standing financial woes.

Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ellie Torres asked Ramon if she had money in her budget to send out applications to those 65 and older. Ramon said she didn’t.

“As always, during a primary year, which is an even-numbered year, be it the gubernatorial or the presidential (election), we always find ourselves short with money in our budget,” she said. “The county is responsible to pay in the primary (election) the costs related to early vote, but in the general, costs related to early vote and Election Day.”

There are, however, other organizations that are already sending out vote-by-mail applications to people in Hidalgo County, Ramon added.

“I will tell you that we already have mail applications coming in. We’ve got this foundation, Center for Voter, that is already sending out applications,” she said. “What is important to note is that they’re pre-filled, but they’re not completely pre-filled.”

Still, Ramon said her office continues to work with the county’s budget office to find funds after recently relocating the elections office to 213 S. Closner Blvd. in Edinburg.

“We are in a new building, but it requires security,” she said. “Because of the nature of our job and securing the election, equipment and the ballots and everything, we are working in establishing very, very strict security guidelines. So we’re also working on that.”

The last day to register to vote is Oct. 5, and Election Day is Nov. 3.