Election Officials Await Court Decisions

May 29, 2020

Legislative News

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There have been many developments in the world of elections as county election officials await the outcome of the pending cases in state and federal courts on the question of whether voting by mail is authorized for any voter who fears exposure to COVID-19 in lieu of voting in person. Elections officials are waiting for the distribution of funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that includes $400 million of Help America Voting Act (HAVA) emergency funds to assist with additional costs associated with preparing for federal election in November amidst the pandemic.

The Texas Secretary of State (SOS) recently issued an email to county officials in connection with a recent proclamation issued by Gov. Abbott that also included information on CARES Act funding and the status of health and safety guidelines for in-person voting. The SOS email stated the following information:

  • Extended Early Voting Hours. As a reminder, in addition to the increased number of early voting days pursuant to the governor's proclamation, the Texas Election Code allows counties flexibility to offer voters extended early voting hours. Specifically, counties can provide extended hours beyond the minimum number of hours required for weekdays during early voting, as set forth in Section 85.005, in order to allow residents more opportunities to vote after work. More than the minimum of five hours on Sunday can be offered in counties over 100,000 in population or those that received a petition for weekend voting, as detailed in Section 85.006.
  • CARES Act Funding. The State of Texas requested approximately $24.5 million in HAVA emergency funds from the federal government through the CARES Act. With the required 20% cash match, the total amount allotted to Texas through the CARES Act is $29.4 million. As authorized by Congress, the funds must be used "to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, for the 2020 Federal election cycle," including for expanded early voting pursuant to the governor's proclamation and for extended early voting hours due to the COVID-19 disaster. The SOS intends to subgrant the CARES Act funding to counties, which can use Chapter 19 funds or county funds to meet the match requirement. The SOS will be receiving the funds and implementing the subgrant process very soon.
    • On Tuesday, May 12, The SOS held a webinar that provided an overview of the CARES Act funding and further details on the subgrant process.  If you were unable to join the webinar, it may be viewed at:
    • EFM: HAVA Grant Presentation (PDF)
    • EFM HAVA Grant Webinar (Password: Elections2020)
  • Health and Safety Guidelines for In-Person Voting: The SOS is currently preparing guidance for election officials and voters regarding the proper conduct of in-person voting during the ongoing public health disaster. The guidance, modeled on minimum health protocols recently issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services for individuals and businesses, will contain detailed recommendations for protecting the health and safety of voters and election workers at the polls. The SOS anticipates issuing this guidance by early June and will continue to work closely with election officials in the coming weeks to ensure that elections are conducted with the utmost safety and security.
    • On May 26, the SOS issued recommended health protocols for voters and elections.

On May 15, the SOS sent an email to county judges, election officials and financial officers informing the officials the state has received their portion of the $400 million grant from the CARES Act in the amount of $24,546,840 for use in the federal election cycle. The SOS decided to subgrant all funds received to Texas counties. The notification letter provides information about the subgrant application process, allocations, grant period, purpose areas and DocuSign emails. Only county judges received the DocuSign emails.

On May 15, the SOS also issued an elections advisory (No. 2020-17) regarding the Nov. 3, 2020 election law calendar. The calendar was updated because many political subdivisions elected to move their elections to November. If you have any questions concerning the calendar, contact the SOS's Election Division at 800-252-8683.

TAC will continue to keep you updated on the ever-evolving matters concerning elections. For more information, contact Nanette Forbes.