by Bismarck D. Andino
AUSTIN, TEXAS — Early voting starts June 29 and ends July 10 for the July 14 runoffs in Texas. Polls will be closed, however, on Friday July 3 and Saturday July 4. In observance to the Fourth of July Holiday, early voting will resume Sunday July 5.
Texans will be voting for 35 runoff contests, which include congressional, legislative and state board seats. To learn more about who’s in the ballot, go here.
One race to keep an eye on is that of state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and retired Air Force pilot Mary “MJ” Hegar. The winner will face incumbent Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for a seat in the Republican’s Senate majority.
The doubled-length early voting comes after Gov. Greg Abbott delayed the May 26 primary election under a proclamation to “prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the COVID-19 disaster.”
But, concerns over the health and safety of voters, amid the growing virus outbreak, took Texas Democrats to a battle in federal courts to expand eligibility for the state’s absentee ballot.
However, as of June 26, that bid has ended — at least for now — as the U.S Supreme Court declined to reinstate a federal judge’s order that would have allowed voting by mail.
Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded the Court for leaving in place the decision of an appeal court blocking that judge’s order.
“Universal mail-in ballots, which are notoriously vulnerable to fraud, would only lead to greater election fraud and disenfranchise lawful voters,” Paxton said in a statement Friday. “State officials have many options available to safely and securely hold elections without risking widespread fraud.”
Democrats counter that expanding mail in voting is essential to protecting voters safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, mail-in ballots are still allowed for certain individuals upon eligibility. To be eligible to vote early by mail in Texas, you must:
- be 65 years or older;
- be disabled;
- be out of the county on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance; or
- be confined in jail, but otherwise eligible.
The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is July 2 (received, not postmarked).
Meanwhile, Abbott issued an executive order Friday morning mandating bars to close and restaurants to reduce their occupancy to 50% citing businesses linked to the recent rise of new coronavirus infections.
“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said in a statement Friday. “Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay six feet apart from others in public, and stay home if they can.”
In a live Facebook video Friday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he was appreciative of Abbot’s decision as that will help reduce recent hospitalizations related to the coronavirus.
According to Adler, more than 300 people are currently hospitalized and 59 new patients were admitted Friday, which he said was a new single-day record for the city.
Recent data from Austin Public Health show a total of 7,825 cases for COVID-19, of which 728 new cases were reported Saturday. However, that number could be higher as the COVID-19 Surveillance dashboard is not updated daily.
“If we put too many people … into hospitals, the concern is that we’re not going to have enough doctors and nurses, and healthcare professionals, to maintain the same kinds of ratios we would want to maintain,” Adler said.
But the city is in a better position with respect to personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, Adler added.
To ensure Texans cast their votes safely Monday, election officials are expected to implement appropriate social distancing and safe hygiene practices as Austin still remains in stage 4 of the COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.
“If you’re over 65, you shouldn’t be going outside at all,” Adler said. “Protect yourself.”
For information about polling locations and hours, go here.