by Alex Samuels, the Texas Tribune

With less than a month until the March 6 primary elections, races up and down the ballot are starting to heat up. This year, Texas has the earliest primaries in the country.

And this cycle has an unusually high number of prominent open races, with eight Texans in the U.S. House opting not to run for re-election and more than a dozen in the Texas Legislature doing the same.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, are up for re-election and facing primary challengers. So are Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, all of whom are Republicans.

We’ve compiled an overview of some of the upcoming races, what forms of ID are acceptable at the polls and how Texas voters can learn more about the 2018 candidates and races.

How do I know if I’m registered to vote?

The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming primaries has passed (and Texas doesn’t allow voter registration on the day of an election). If you aren’t already registered, you won’t be able to cast a ballot in this year’s primaries.

Don’t know if you’re registered? Check the Texas Secretary of State’s website. All you’ll need to do is enter your full name, birthdate, zip code and the county you live in.

Of note: There’s no way to register online in Texas, but if you want to make sure you’re set for future elections, you can register in person at your county voter registrar’s office or by filling out a voter registration application online, printing it and mailing it to your county’s registrar.

When does early voting start?

Early voting runs from Feb. 20 through March 2, and many Texans will have the option of voting on the weekend. In counties with a population of 100,000 or more, the polls have to be open for at least 12 hours on the last Saturday and at least five hours on the last Sunday of the early voting period, according to the Texas Election Code.

But in smaller counties, options for early voting on weekends vary.

"In short, voters should check with their county elections office to find out what hours the polls will be open during the weekend," said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State's office.

Where can I cast my ballot and what polling places are near me?

Using the same portal that voters can use to find out if they’re registered, they can also find their polling location options on Election Day and during the early voting period.

During the early voting period, voters can vote at any location in the county they are registered to vote in, Taylor said.

Things work differently on March 6, the day of the primaries, depending on where you live. Some counties participate in the Countywide Polling Place Program, which allows voters to vote at any precinct in their county of registration — even on the day of an election. Voters in counties that do not participate in the program must vote in their specific precinct on Election Day.

Can I vote for either party?

Yes, because Texas is an open-primary state. This means voters can decide every two years whether they’d rather help pick the Republican or the Democratic nominees (or hold out and go to third-party conventions).

Of note: Whatever primary you decide to vote in, you can only vote in that same party’s runoff, if a runoff is held. You can also vote for either party's candidate in the general election.

What form of ID do I need to bring to the polls?

If you’re confused about what ID to bring to the polls for the 2018 election, you’re probably not alone. The legal wrangling over the state’s requirements has turned rather complicated. Here are the seven types of photo ID that will be accepted at the polls for the primaries:

So, what if I don’t have one of the seven approved forms of ID?

If you have qualifying photo ID, bring it. But if you don't, you can still cast a ballot.

Voters who do not have any of those documents and cannot “reasonably obtain” them can still cast a vote if they sign a form in which they swear that they have a “reasonable impediment” from obtaining appropriate identification.

Those voters will also have to present one of the following types of ID:

A “reasonable impediment” can include a lack of transportation, disability or illness, family responsibilities or lost or stolen identification, among other things. And election judges may not question a voter about the reasonableness of a claimed impediment.

The “reasonable impediment” declaration forms will be available at each polling location. Voters are not expected to fill them out ahead of time, Taylor said.

Who will I be voting for?

For both parties, the race for U.S. Senate will be at the top of the ballot. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is vying against four other Republicans in his bid for re-election, and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is the most well-known of three Democrats aiming to unseat Cruz.

At the state level, nine candidates are crowding the Democratic gubernatorial primary, with the highest-profile being former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Houston entrepreneur Andrew White, son of late Texas Gov. Mark White. Republican Land Commissioner George P. Bush is running for re-election and facing three primary challengers including Jerry Patterson, who previously held the job.

Lower on the ballot, all of the seats in the Texas House of Representatives and half of those in the Texas Senate are up for re-election. Below that could be local races for justice of the peace or constable, depending on where you live.

In addition, the Republican Party of Texas will pose several propositions to GOP voters at the bottom of its primary ballot related to property taxes, E-verify, toll roads, Obamacare and more.

What would it take for an election to end up in a runoff?

If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the primary (i.e. 50 percent of the votes plus at least one additional vote) the top two vote-getters will compete in a primary runoff on May 22.

With several competitive races with multiple candidates shaping up across the state, it’s likely some will result in runoff elections.

Eight Texans in the U.S. House aren't running for re-election, which has led to some packed races to replace them, including 18 Republicans and four Democrats running for the seat U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, has held for more than 30 years.

There’s also expected to be competitive Democratic primaries for at least three congressional district seats. Republican U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Pete Sessions of Dallas and Will Hurd of Helotes have emerged as top targets for Democrats in November, and in each district, several Democrats are vying to be their party’s nominee.

How can I learn more about 2018 candidates and races?

The Texas Tribune is following the 2018 races closely. Sign up for The Brief for a daily rundown of election and government news in your inbox.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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