Securing additional ballots ahead of an expected surge in mail-in voting for the July 14 primary runoff elections, as well as sanitizing supplies for in-person voting, were among anticipated uses of a federal CARES grant discussed by the commissioners court on June 10.
Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson explained to the court that the grant of more than $191,000, which commissioners voted to accept on June 2, will require a 20 percent county match, and can be used through the end of November for “anything above and beyond our normal budget” for an election. “Anything that can help us prepare,” she said, mentioning items like sanitizers, masks, gloves, brochures and messaging necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When asked about the possibility of drive-through voting, Anderson pointed out that the county already has curbside voting that allows someone to vote without actually entering the polling place, but noted that is subject to weather conditions that would be heightened during a summer election, especially humidity.
“Drive-through is something we’ve talked about, having maybe one or two throughout the county,” Anderson said, though details haven’t been finalized. She said Travis County encountered the humidity challenge when exploring drive-through testing for the July runoff. “The elements” impact both the ballots themselves as well as scanners, she said. However, she concluded, it’s “certainly something I’m willing to explore but would need a little more time.”
Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe noted that $30,000 of the grant would be used for postage and wondered whether that would handle the increased mail-in voting. She also questioned whether there would be adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for election workers.
“I think we’re set for July,” Anderson said, adding that come November additional PPE may be required.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith pitched the idea of temporary buildings used as polling places, some located in the parking lots of churches and other facilities that have been used as polling places in the past but are now reticent to allow it because of the coronavirus.
“We could locate them in population dense areas where we know there is a need for voting,” Smith said. “Temporary buildings we can set up completely contained. We would have the option to control access, cleanliness, all the things we are concerned about. It could be very beneficial.”
He went on to say that he would be happy to explore grant funding to help the county acquire the temporary buildings.
The last day to register to vote in the July 14 runoff election was Monday, June 15. Early voting runs June 29 through July 10 and applications to vote by mail must be received by July 2.