By Chase Rogers
Election officials in Hays County faced increased voter turnout, boosted mail-in ballot use and the necessary implementation of safety measures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic during the July 14 runoff election. This election served as a test run for what the November election could look like.
Preventative measures at the elections centers included sanitation of polling machines between uses, social distancing, facial coverings and curbside voting. According to Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson, the runoff election in the county operated smoothly, with the majority of complaints from voters concerning mask recommendations at polling locations.
As expected as the pandemic continues in Texas and across the nation, the county saw voters utilize mail-in ballots significantly more than compared to other runoff elections.
In the 2016 runoff election, 2,865 ballots, including mail-in ballots, were cast. Early voting alone for the 2020 runoffs surpassed 2016’s numbers, with over 10,000 voters having checked into an election center and over 4,000 mail-in ballots submitted. Including Election Day for the most-recent runoff, 18,558 voters cast ballots.
Anderson said she is predicting an increased use of mail-in ballots in November given the runoff’s dramatic increase.
“Because (mail-in ballots) were so much higher than ordinarily for a runoff election, we know that it’s going to be much higher in November,” Anderson said. “We are preparing for a higher volume.”
Anderson stated that the 2016 presidential elections saw over 6,000 mail-in ballots while the 2020 runoff saw nearly 5,000. She is predicting to see between 10,000 and 15,000 in November, assuming the pandemic continues to be a major factor.
In addition to the increased turnout, the ballot will be significantly longer, since city and school elections from earlier in the year were postponed to November. To circumvent this potential wait times, Anderson recommends voters use early voting.
“There’s probably six jurisdictions that held off from May till November, so in addition to what ordinarily would be on the November ballot, now we’ll have six additional jurisdictions. Definitely a longer ballot,” Anderson said. “We offer two solid weeks early voting, so if folks would vote more during that early voting period, it would alleviate some of the crowd at the polling location on election day.”
While mail-in is expected to increase, Anderson and her office is planning to conduct outreach in August to inform voters about mail-in ballots and voter registrations concurrently with other organizations in the county.
“We will visit different locations around the county and talk to voters about ballot by mail and on making sure you’re registered,” Anderson said. “The county has also done a press release with some of those specifics about do’s and don’ts of vote by mail, and I know that the League of Women Voters also does some work in this area.”