Precautions in place, county election officials awaiting November

Chase Rogers

With early voting for the Hays County runoff election currently completed and election day slated for Tuesday, July 14, administrators have enacted precautions to limit the potential spread of Covid-19 at elections centers. 

Preventative measures at the six elections centers used for early voting included sanitation of polling machines between uses, social distancing, facial coverings and curbside voting. While they have seen success and voters have largely complied with the guidelines, elections administrators are bracing for how the precautions will fair during the Nov. 3 election. 

Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson said the safety measures have been widely accepted by voters, citing an increased turnout despite the looming pandemic.

“I haven’t received a lot of pushback either from the voters or the poll workers regarding the safety measures we’ve put into place. In fact, most people seem to appreciate them,” Anderson said. “That’s reflected in the turnout so far, because, for a runoff election, this has been a very attended runoff.”

Anderson cited the the last runoff election during a presidential year in 2016, where 2,865 of 108,615 registered voters (2.68%) cast ballots, including mail-in ballots. As of July 12 and the completion of early voting, over 10,000 voters have checked in to an election center to cast a ballot and over 4,000 mail-in ballots have been counted.

Robert McMillan, having worked at polling locations for 12 years prior, said the runoff has been tolerable to manage with the new guidelines, but foresees issues with the upcoming November election given increased turnout.

“It’s going to be hectic and the cleaning process is going to slow the voting process because we will have more voters (in November). Presidential elections are just more heavily voted,” McMillan said. “It will be a little bit more challenging, but it won’t be be anything that we can’t handle.”

Additionally, curbside voting presented as an option for voters who believe they are exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus. This service, required by state law, was created to aid voters with disabilities that could inhibit their ease of voting.

McMillan said the process for curbside voting is significantly longer and can cause delays but is important for those who need it.

“We’re not going to question it. We’re not going to argue about it. We’re not going to be ugly – we’re going to do it. But it is a whole lot more work on us,” McMillan said. “But, I am glad it’s an option.”

Poll workers have been in short supply for some counties in Texas as they tend to be older and thus have a higher risk for complications from contracting the coronavirus. The Texas Tribune reported Bexar County and Tarrant County had to close polling locations due to workers pulling out of working those locations, citing coronavirus concerns.

McMillan said he knows of one couple in Hays County that was advised by their doctor not to work the polls, but added that no locations have had to close.

“The couple that worked with us were at the gathering and were exposed, so they opted not to go until. They tested negative, they’re fine… but their doctor recommended they do not work elections and get in that environment,” McMillan said. “But we still have enough people to work the location.”

Anderson said the county has had no issues manning polling locations during the runoffs but acknowledged there could be staffing challenges for the upcoming Nov. 3 election.  

“For this election, we’ve been pretty fortunate, and we’ve had plenty of our poll workers respond and they are currently working. Though, (the July 14 runoff) is a much smaller election than in November,” Anderson said. “We do you think we could potentially see some challenges in staffing polling locations in November if this pandemic continues to circulate and grow in our community.”

This challenge could be further exacerbated by additional city and school elections postponed by Gov. Abbott’s March 18 proclamation. Originally scheduled for May 2, 2020, these elections will be added to the ballots provided November 3, 2020.

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