COVID-19 concerns surround Texas primary runoff elections as early voting starts

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Starting Monday, voters will decide which Democratic and Republican primary candidates will end up on the ballot this November. However, officials are gearing up to ensure voters and poll workers are safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic caused several problems for Travis County on Super Tuesday. The big voting day was on March 3, 10 days before the county had its first two coronavirus cases. At present, with nearly 8,500 cases, all eyes are on the county’s election judges. This comes after 80 election judges did not show up to their polling locations on Super Tuesday.

“A judge that typically oversleeps or a judge that just wakes up late, that’s what we deal with about seven to eight people every election is what we’re used to,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County Clerk. “Ten times that? Eighty? That caught us by surprise.”

To avoid that problem, DeBeauvoir said they’re calling on two groups to help out — Travis County employees, and they’re recruiting people who are younger.

“I’m hoping that we have enough and it’s all going to be OK,” she said.

They’ll need those recruits. DeBeauvoir expects early voting in this primary runoff to be busy. She estimates voter turnout could be as high as 30%, six times higher than a normal runoff.

“Even with COVID-19, voters want to vote, there is pent-up energy and they’re ready to go to the polling places,” DeBeauvoir said.

New for Travis County, people will no longer vote in grocery stores.

“They are already challenged and there was no real way to socially distance voters and shoppers in those locations,” she explained.

Instead, the county has new, larger polling locations to allow for social distancing. Places like the Toney Burger Activity Center and several elementary schools.

When it comes to voting, DeBeauvoir said there are new steps voters will have to take to follow COVID-19 health guidelines.

“We want voters to wear a mask, we will ask them to sanitize their hands and they will not touch any of the equipment, we have PPE for the voters to use for the equipment,” she said.

With all of these changes, DeBeauvoir said early voting is key.

“Life is a little unpredictable, you don’t know what’s going to happen to you in the next few days, get the voting taken care of as soon as possible,” DeBeauvoir said.

Election Day is July 14.

Despite COVID-19 concerns, DeBeauvoir believes the General Election will break every record they’ve ever experienced when it comes to voter turnout.

Find your county’s election site

* denotes you can vote at any voting location on Election Day. See the full statewide list.

Also, before showing up to vote, if you did not vote on Super Tuesday, make sure you are registered to vote.

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