Travis County experiences first election with COVID-19

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Photo Credit: Megan Fletcher | Daily Texan Staff

The Travis County Clerk’s office and advocacy groups adapted based on COVID-19 safety measures for the county’s first election during the pandemic on Tuesday.

The election experienced significantly high voter turnout for a special election and runoff election, with 142,795 ballots cast by Democrats and Republicans in Travis County, according to Travis County Clerk reports. In 2018, the joint primary runoff brought in a total of 63,052 ballots. 

In addition, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the number of mail-in ballots cast may break records set by presidential elections. Democrats cast 20,621 mail-in ballots while Republicans cast 2,974, according to unofficial reports. DeBeauvoir said some ballots are still being counted.

“We've had to rearrange a lot of our warehouse to carve out more room to put individuals who can work ballot by mail socially distanced from each other,”  DeBeauvoir said. “I've had to hire lots of extra temporary help to get through the avalanche of (vote) by mail.”

DeBeauvoir said she heard anecdotal experiences about people not receiving their ballots on time, keeping them from voting, and is discussing this with the post office. In addition, she said about 4,600 people incorrectly filled out the ballot-by-mail application, and her office has attempted to track these people down and make corrections.

At polling locations, social distancing was practiced and additional precautions, including finger covers and hand sanitizer at the door, were used to prevent spread. DeBeauvoir said she intends to continue those precautions in the fall. 

Business honors sophomore Brittany Given said she voted in the run-off election at the Austin Recreation Center during early voting, and that voting only took her about 10 minutes. Given said she felt safe with the precautions being taken.

“They had plexiglass up, latex we could use to sign and popsicle sticks we could use to select our choices on the ballot, so it felt pretty safe, probably more so because there wasn’t a line and there weren’t that many people,” Given said.

Texas Votes president Janae Steggall said this election was the first that TX Votes advocated for virtually, and she was impressed with the turnout. She said she is uncertain about the fall, but plans to continue advocating for voting through virtual means, such as creating individualized voting information for student voters.

Steggall said TX Votes will also partner with TurboVote in the fall, a service that sends voters notifications of upcoming elections and voting deadlines, according to its website.

“Our priority is always our student safety and well-being,” Steggall said. “Well-being comes before voter registration and voter education. We always want our members to take care of themselves before anything with TX Votes comes in. So we are not expecting or even asking our student members to help out with (in-person) voter registration efforts in the fall. We're really pushing online voter registration”