DALLAS - Elections administrators say they are doing all they can to assure North Texas voters it's safe to come out and vote despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Monday was the first day of early voting for primary runoffs across the state. The runoff election was supposed to take place in late May, but was pushed back more than a month due to COVID-19 concerns.
“This is a dry run in getting ready for November,” said Toni Pippins-Poole, Dallas County Elections Administrator. “We're providing a touch-free atmosphere for the voter. They can bring their own stylus in or we can give them a sterilized stylus they can sign their name on the poll book and also use that stylus to go to the voting booth to cast their ballots.”
The challenges are not just environmental hygiene, but also hiring employees to work the polls.
“Those that had those underlying health issues were afraid and they did not want to work so we did have to replace them,” Pippins-Poole said.
For voter James Barlow, it was a good experience, all things considered.
“I have my mask on, I have my gloves on. He was very helpful, showed me everything and it was over,” Barlow said.
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While he wore a mask, the state is not making masks mandatory for voters.
“The governor and the secretary of state says we can’t prevent people from voting because they don’t have a mask, but we strongly recommend it,” Pippins-Poole said.
Election officials are still expecting people to vote in person because of the ongoing legal battle involving vote-by-mail in Texas. It’s allowed for people over 65, those out of town or in prison but not convicted of a felony and people with disabilities.
The Texas Supreme Court has said fear of contracting COVID-19 is not a qualified reason to vote by mail. But there is no way election officials can know someone's disability.
“The legislature has left it up to the people to determine and we trust the people in Texas and certainly there’s room for fraud. Now, if we find out somebody voted and they weren't disabled, that could be punishable with fines and potential jail time,” said Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General.
Early voting has been extended to ten days to give more time to vote early. There are also fewer machines in place because of social distancing guidelines inside polling places.
The most notable race is in the Democratic primary, where voters are picking a U.S. Senate nominee to run against Republican incumbent John Cornyn, choosing between Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and state Sen. Royce West.
Primary runoff election day is July 14.