Texas Voters Look Ahead To November After Casting First Ballots During The Pandemic

“We’re trying to do what the state of Texas and the federal government want you to do, which is to social distance and just stay away from people when you have the virus.”

By Mallory FalkJuly 17, 2020 9:49 am, , , , ,

From KERA:

Tuesday’s primary runoff election was a bit of a test run for November. There were bumps in the road, from issues with mail-in ballots to stories of polling places shutting down at the last minute because workers were too afraid of COVID-19 to show up.

Still, many Texans cast their ballots in person and got a small preview of what a socially distant presidential election might look like.

For Jacob Morales, 21, the experience was reassuring. He was slightly nervous about voting in person at his polling place on El Paso’s west side.

Though Morales has been out during the pandemic, because of his work as a server, he was still “kinda scared to see how it was gonna go.”

Despite his apprehension, staying home was not an option. Morales, a student at the University of Texas at El Paso, is a committed voter. He spent the day of the runoffs messaging friends, reminding them to show up at the polls.

“If we don’t come out and make our voices heard, we’re not gonna get any change,” he said.

Morales was relieved to see that his polling place — like others around the city — had taken safety precautions, including handing out Q-tips so voters didn’t have to touch screens.

“The measures that they’re taking, they’re actually very comforting,” Morales said.

Around the state, voters told KERA they were impressed with the protocols at their polling places.

“We voted in the sanctuary, which is different than [where] we normally vote at this location,” said Courtney Hernandez, who cast her ballot at a Methodist church in Dallas. “Normally we’re in the kids’ classroom. So there was a lot more space between us.”

“They all have sanitizer and wipes and everything,” said Malcolm Beaty, who stopped by a community center in Fort Worth. “Even sanitizing the pens and whatnot as you use them.”

Malcolm Beaty poses for a portrait after voting at the Martin Luther King Community Center in Fort Worth, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Though Tuesday was a sort of trial run for the general election in November, election officials could only learn so much.

Voter turnout is lower in primary runoffs. It’s easier to maintain social distance and move quickly through the voting process when there is not much of a line, and when there are not a lot of candidates or measures on the ballot.

With the presidency at stake, polling places will almost certainly be much more crowded this fall.

That does not worry Malcolm Beaty.

“For one because I usually get up early and go vote,” he said. “If I don’t do early voting then I make sure I get up early on the day of and get there before people get out and hit the polls.”

Others are more concerned, including Linda Harrison from Austin.

She is one of around 68,000 people who have tested positive for COVID since July 2nd, which was the deadline to register to vote by mail.

“We’re trying to do what the state of Texas and the federal government want you to do, which is to social distance and just stay away from people when you have the virus,” Harrison told Paul Flahive from Texas Public Radio.

The state did not make that easy, Harrison said. The night before the election, she learned her test results were not enough to receive an emergency absentee ballot; instead, she needed a certified doctor’s note. That led to a last minute scramble, plus a lawyer who helped get her ballot in under the wire.

The process did not leave Harrison with much confidence.

“If we’ve lost 137,000 people in the United States to date, what do they think it’s going to be in November?” she asked. “People are going to want to vote in the major election. If they find themselves in my shoes, are they not going to be allowed to vote?

What exactly November will look like is still in the works.

People vote for the primary runoff elections in Dallas, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Yet El Pasoan Blanca Martinez, 79, can’t imagine anything will keep her from the polls this fall.

She knows it will likely be more crowded at her polling place — a high school located just a few yards from the U.S.-Mexico border — but hopes it will also be comfortable.

On Tuesday, she cast a ballot in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave, and said the hardest part was wearing a mask while temperatures climbed.

In November, she plans to get up really early, to be one of the first in line.

KERA’s Alejandra Martinez and Miranda Suarez and Texas Public Radio’s Paul Flahive contributed to this story.

Got a tip? Mallory Falk is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email her at mfalk@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @malloryfalk.

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