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How Travis County is handling election season during the pandemic

Some voters in Georgia had to wait in line for several hours. So we learned how Travis County is handling election season.

AUSTIN, Texas — It was a messy Tuesday at the polls throughout the state of Georgia as voters had to wait sometimes for several hours in line. At times, it was the pandemic that was blamed for some of the issues that were caused. 

According to KVUE's sister station in Atlanta, WXIA, investigations into what happened could start soon. 

Elections are handled differently in Texas, and the Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the upcoming runoff election on July 14 holds challenges, but it will also be a good test to see how things could operate in November for the general election.

"We're not going to look like Georgia," DeBeauvoir said. "... I think there are some lessons that we can learn from the July election that will help us cope with November. So we're focusing all of our attention on making sure we understand what voters want and we understand what works best."

Note: the deadline to register to vote for the runoff election is June 15. Applications for Ballot By Mail must be received by July 2, according to the Travis County Clerk's Office. 

How elections work in Texas

DeBeauvoir explained that elections are run through counties, rather than the state. 

"Georgia runs a statewide system that's very centralized. In Texas, All of our elections are decentralized. They're run at the local county level. And it is easier to respond to exactly what the community wants when it's broken down into into just a county-by-county basis," DeBeauvoir said. 

She also expressed support for the newer voting machines used in Travis County that were rolled out during the Texas Primaries. 

"... because we don't have those kinds of equipment problems, or at least we work very, very hard to make sure that we avoid it," said DeBeauvoir.

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How voting will look

If you cast a ballot on July 14, things will look different as we are still in a pandemic. 

Masks will be asked to be worn by all voters and staff. If you decide to not wear a mask, DeBeauvoir said you are still able to vote, but will be using a machine further away from the rest of the group. 

"... we're asking all of our election workers will be wearing masks. They will have extra [personal protective equipment] in order to be able to do their jobs. And in the situation of for early voting, when they've got voters coming in day after day after day, we want to make sure that we protect them from that kind of really heavy exposure," DeBeauvoir said. 

When checking in, a disposable finger covering will be provided so you can still sign in using a touch pad. A picture of it is seen below. 

When it comes to voting at the machines, there will be disposable wooden sticks that are used to tap on the screen. 

A picture of that is also seen below. 

Of course, hand sanitizer will also be provided. 

"We've always kept our polling places clean and well organized. But this is well beyond just the normal clean and well organized. This is to try to cut down on any chance of transmission, if we can, at all," DeBeauvoir said. "... so it's all of these barrier and cleaning strategies that the doctors have taught us to use."

According to DeBeauvoir, grocery stores will not be used as a polling place for the July runoff. It is not yet decided if November will see the same circumstance.

"... it's not going to happen this time. It's not a safe enough process. And the stores are already overwhelmed just trying to take care of and feed us. So we'll see if this is the only election where we have to discontinue grocery stores," DeBeauvoir said. "... the grocery stores and many of our early voting locations were not large enough places to permit social distancing. And that's one of the really key factors we want to we want to operate under for this election."

A list of the early voting polling locations for the July runoff are found here. The July 14 locations are found here.

Voter turnout

In regard to voter turnout, Bruce Elfant, the Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector and voter registrar, said mid-summer runoff elections are typically about 5% turnout. 

"... now, there seems to be a little bit more energy in the community. So I expect it to be a little bit higher. But I don't expect to see any kind of record-breaking turnout in mid-July," Elfant said. "But we want to accommodate people and anybody who is interested in registering and voting for the primary runoff. We certainly want them to have the opportunity to do that."

Elfant also added that what happened in Georgia was inexcusable, and that he said he would like to see vote by mail expanded in Texas. 

"It's an outrage to put voters in that kind of position where they're having to wait three, four and even six hours to cast a vote in unsafe conditions. And, you know, I'm disappointed that the the state is not opening up a vote by mail for all our citizens," Elfant said. "Most citizens around the country are able to vote by mail if that's what they want to do, but not in Texas. So I'm disappointed about that. But I know that at least in Travis County, our county clerk is going to be taking every precaution to make sure that our voters and our poll workers are going to be safe."

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Elfant added that he encourages people to come out to the polls. 

"... the more people who weigh in on these important issues, the more representative the outcome will be. So I'm always worried about turnout. Now that we have the pandemic as another barrier, we're doubly worried about voter registration and turnout. But we're committed to try to find ways that people can register to vote easily and safely," Elfant said. 

As for wait times, DeBeauvoir said the July runoff likely won't see long lines, but it will be outside that people have to wait. 

"The lines are going to be spaced out socially, distanced six feet apart. And I don't think for the July election we're going to see really lines or waiting," DeBeauvoir said. 

Ballot by mail

According to DeBeauvoir's office, they've received 24,454 applications for ballot by mail as of June 10. 

To view our previous reporting on voting by mail, click here. 

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