In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 primary runoff and general elections will be unprecedented. Adhering to health and safety standards poses challenges, but county election officials are up to the task.
On May 11, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation changing the start of the early voting period for the July 14 primary runoff election from July 6 to June 29. The governor's rationale was that the increased opportunities to vote early would assist with social distancing.
On May 28, the governor stated that he would expand the early voting period for an unspecified time for the November election, because "it allows more people to go vote early in settings that are not highly congregated." He also said, "As a result, you can go vote without having to worry about a whole bunch of people being around you that you could contract COVID-19 from." Unfortunately, Abbott did not say for how long he would extend the early voting period. Failure to indicate when personal-appearance early voting will begin has made it difficult for election officials to budget and to begin to organize polling places and personnel. The early voting period for the general election is Oct. 19-30.
Voting by Mail
Two lawsuits were pending in state and federal courts over expanding voting by mail to anyone who feared exposure to COVID-19. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state. On June 9, the Texas Democratic Party and civic organizations asked the court of appeals to dismiss their appeal of the district court’s decision. The federal case was appealed from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. On June 4, the court granted a stay pending further order of the court. On June 16, the Texas Democratic Party asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stay order. Clarity on this issue is essential to election officials so they may advise their offices and the public on mail-ballot requirements for the primary runoff and the November general election.
On June 11, the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) issued Election Advisory No. 2020-18, which provides "special procedures for appointing early voting officers, members of the early voting ballot board, and election clerks who will serve in the November general election for state and county officers."
On June 18, the SOS issued election advisory No. 2020-19 to assist election officials on voting in person during COVID-19. "The advisory is intended to supplement our office's guidance in Election Advisory No. 2020-14 (issued on April 6, 2020) and the recommended health protocols for Texas election officials and voters in response to COVID-19 (issued on May 26, 2020)."
The SOS has a COVID-19 Resources for Election Officials page on their website with a list of resources available to election officials as they prepare for the upcoming elections.
On June 15, applications from counties were due to the SOS Elections Division for the subgrant. The subgrant award will be based on 2020 Chapter 19 allocations (voter registration statistics).
The SOS updated its grant funding presentation on the CARES Act and HAVA election security grant on June 3. The 2018 and 2020 election security grants were recently combined by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. If you have any questions or need additional information regarding the HAVA grants, contact the SOS election funds management team by email or call (512) 463-5966.
TAC will continue to provide election updates as they become available. For additional information, email Nanette Forbes.