Early voting for Texas primary runoff elections began on Monday and local election officials are stepping up precautions to keep in-person voting safe as the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the state while also urging those who qualify to vote-by-mail to do so.
The early voting period continues until July 10. Election Day is July 14. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins spoke to Texas Standard about the unique challenges he and other local officials are facing this election season.
“As you know, we’re facing a second run of COVID-19 here and across Texas,” Hollins said. “Because of that we’re doing everything in our power to ensure the safety of voters and poll workers if they’re going to vote in-person.”
Specific safety rules have largely been left up to local election officials like Hollins. But the state has suggested voters bring their own hand sanitizer and face masks and consider voting curbside, if they have symptoms of COVID-19.
Hollins said his office strongly encourages those who qualify, to vote by mail. Voters who are 65 years and older, or who will be traveling outside their home county on Election Day or have a disability can request a mail-in ballot. So can those individuals who are jailed but otherwise eligible to vote.
“Covered under that category of disabled are pregnant women, as well as anyone who has a likelihood of injury to their health by voting in person,” Hollins said. “The Texas Supreme Court has said a lack of immunity to COVID-19 can be considered in your evaluation of your health. However, it can’t be the only factor.”
Hollins said Harris County has increased the number of polling places open during early voting to 57. Adding polling places, he said, provides better opportunities for social distancing.
Voters are required to stand at least six feet apart while in line, and voting machines are placed six feet apart, Hollins said. Hand sanitizer will be provided, and a mask will be offered if the voter hasn’t brought one. Poll workers will wear face masks and shields, and be separated from voters by acrylic screens during a voter’s check-in process, Hollins said.
Web story by Shelly Brisbin.