You thought grocery shopping during a pandemic was hard? Try holding an election. Early voting is underway in Texas’s rescheduled runoffs, and local elections officials are implementing new safety protocols in what’s seen as a test run before November’s presidential election.
In downtown Abilene, tape on the floor of the polling station at Taylor County Plaza shows voters how to keep 6 feet of distance while waiting in line. There’s a hand sanitizer dispenser just inside the door, and jugs of it sitting on tables. Taylor County’s Elections Administrator Freda Ragan said volunteers will offer voters disposable gloves and face masks when they check in.
“Every election does present its own unique challenges. However, COVID-19 has created its own unique set of challenges,” Ragan said.
Another challenge is that for early voting during the runoffs, Taylor County has only one polling location, instead of the usual five. The other places, like grocery stores, don’t have the space to keep booths six feet apart.
“Some of the locations that we’re typically at were a little hesitant because of the virus, and concerned about voting and the number of people that may come in and gather at that one location,” Ragan said.
Ragan is scouting new locations and volunteers for November since some of the usual poll workers may not be available, including those who are at high risk of developing COVID-19.
Dale Boecker, an Air Force retiree and a retired state corrections worker, said he has no concerns.
“It’s going to be kinda silly I think,” Boecker said in a phone call. “I’m kind of a nonparticipant in the COVID-19 thingy. I will help Freda in the election because I’ve done it so long and she does need the help.”
Boecker has worked Taylor County’s elections for more than a decade, and said he’d do almost anything for Freda – almost.
“I won’t wear a mask,” he said. “It’s going to be a plastic shield if they will give me that option. If I have to wear the cloth mask or paper mask, I will not do that.”
Taylor County does have face shields for poll workers.
Linda Goolsbee usually helps with elections but she won’t be volunteering this year.
“My husband and I are both in the age group that would be hit the hardest. And we would not have easy cases, and I just can’t take that chance,” she said.
Goolsbee is also mailing in her ballot, and thinks everyone should be able to vote by mail. But the Texas Supreme Court ruled that lack of immunity to COVID-19 doesn’t make voters eligible for a mail ballot.
Still, Ragan said requests for mail ballots in Taylor County are up 38% over the March primary, and, she added, her office doesn’t have time to verify each mail-ballot applicant’s claims.
“Each voter needs to assess their own situation,” Ragan said. “And if they feel like they meet that criteria, then they need to just submit a request to our office, and then we will process their application and send them a ballot.”
Ragan said there’s another option for nervous voters: curbside voting. But she said that takes more time.
She said voters will need extra patience now, and in November. As she looked ahead to the presidential election, Ragan anticipated long lines at the polls. Her advice? Take advantage of the early voting period.