High (Relative) Turnout in Early Voting as Election Day Approaches
Confusion over mail ballots lingers
By Michael King,
2:30PM, Tue. Jul. 7, 2020
Through Monday, more than 50,000 people had voted in Travis County – 6.08% of registered voters. From those early returns, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir estimates a final turnout of about 15% – not overwhelming, but high for an interim election.
By comparison, in the May 2018 primary run-offs (for example), about 31,000 people voted early (4.17%). So although 6.08% in partial early returns is not exactly a percentage to brag about, e-voting continues through Friday, July 10, so we may yet all be staggered by the relative enthusiasm of our neighbors for participatory democracy. (Daily voting totals and other election information is available on the Travis County Clerk Election website.)
DeBeauvoir reports that in-person voting under pandemic conditions is proceeding according to plan. “Our reports say that people are pleased with all the precautions" – distancing, masks and shields, and hand-sanitizing – and that the new, larger e-vote locations have allowed enough space (rather than, say, traditional grocery stores) to enable people to keep their distance from each other.
“It’s going well,” said DeBeauvoir, “and there haven’t been any problems or incidents reported to us so far.”
Instead, the unexpected problem has been the much-reported misunderstanding over mail ballot applications – would-be voters (many of them new to voting by mail) who did not indicate a party preference on their applications received ballots that included only the nonpartisan special election for the Senate District 14 race (which includes about 75% of Travis County). “At first, I thought the application was straightforward,” said DeBeauvoir, “but when we started to have this problem I looked again, and realized that people could read ‘primary ballot’ [vs. general election] and think that request would only apply to the initial March primary, and they should indicate the other.”
She said officials have received about 4,600 of the requests (of more than 31,000) that do not indicate a party preference – a few might be genuine independents, but most are voters who want to vote in a primary run-off but filled out the state-designed form incorrectly. “The form isn’t really very good at all,” said DeBeauvoir.
Because the mail application request deadline was July 2, the available remedy is to vote in-person – taking the mail ballot along to be officially voided and then to vote directly on the machines. “I understand those people wanted to vote by mail,” DeBeauvoir acknowledged, “but there are no lines, and the polls are very safe. They do not look anything like previous polling places. I understand voters’ fear, but the polls are safe.” More information is available on the election website, or by calling 512-238-VOTE.
DeBeauvoir has described this election as a “dry run” for November, when there will be many more thousands of voters and undoubtedly many more mail ballots. “We’ve learned a great deal about how voters react in the middle of a pandemic, and what voters say makes them feel comfortable. We’ve been very persnickety about following CDC guidelines for elections, and we’ve resolved a lot of the big questions.”
Travis County has also acquired another high-speed scanner for counting mail ballots, and DeBeauvoir expects that election day tabulation and results will not be delayed by the expected additional numbers of mail ballots – nearly 13,000 of more than 30,000 requested have already been returned, with a postmark deadline of election day, July 14. Through Monday, nearly 38,000 people had voted in person.
There’s one more unusual wrinkle in this election: If none of the six candidates for state senator, District 14 (which also includes Bastrop County), win an outright majority of the votes, there will be a run-off in that race. Under state law, the run-off would occur in September, with the specific date to be announced by Gov. Greg Abbott.
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