Ballot Battle: Pandemic Looms Over TX Elections

The coronavirus won't stop democracy, but it might slow it down. With the Texas primary runoff elections already pushed back from May to July 14 due to the pandemic, election officials across the state are now scrambling to make sure they have enough poll workers, machines and materials while still adhering to social distancing. Complicating matters more is the ongoing legal battle between the state and liberal groups over expansion of mail-in voting during the pandemic.

"Right now, we're just in a holding pattern seeing how this litigation works its way through the court system," says John Oldham, elections administrator in Fort Bend County. "In-person voting for July 14th we think we can handle, although we will have lost probably over 20 polling places because of the Covid-19 issue."

At the very least, counties are preparing for an increase in the usual number of mail-in ballots due to the impacts of Covid-19. Some election officials are even considering things like drive-thru voting, but Oldham doesn't think that is feasible. "To have drive-thru voting you would have to have a way to check (voters) in, you would also have to have a way to get a ballot to them, and with the system we're implementing in Texas now they would have to have access to a machine," he says.

Most election officials around the state are treating the July 14 election as a dry run for the main event---the general election November 3. "Our big concern is November," says Oldham. "It's going to be a huge ballot and people will take a long time to vote, and if we have to spread the booths out 8 to 10 feet apart, we won't be able to get as many in a polling our concern is long lines, in addition to voters' health."

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