The Tarrant County Elections Department is gearing up for the upcoming runoff election in the midst of a global pandemic. Early voting starts next Monday, June 29, and will continue until election day, July 14. There will be no voting on July 3 or 4.
The county will operate over 170 voting centers during the two-week voting period and will employ 2,000 poll workers.
The election is a party runoff following the March primary elections, but will also include a Crime Control and Prevention District election for Fort Worth residents.
During Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting, the Tarrant County Elections Administrator, Heider Garcia, explained the measures that are being taken to provide safe conditions and assurances to the voting public.
Voters are encouraged to do three things when at the polling place, Garcia told the commissioners court.
First, keep a safe distance of about six feet from others.
Second, wear a mask or other face covering. A limited number of masks will be available to voters, but voters should wear their own if they have one. The mask may need to be temporarily removed in order to be identified by election workers.
Third, sanitize hands upon entry and departure from the polling place. Sanitizer will be provided.
Garcia also said that curbside voting will be available, but not for a large number of voters.
“We love children, but if you don’t need to bring your kids this time, we recommend that you don’t because of complications of COVID,” Garcia added.
In order to cut down on time spent at the voting booth, Garcia recommends that voters study the ballot ahead of time. Samples can be found on the county’s website.
Additionally, poll workers will be provided with masks, face shields, and gloves if they choose to wear them. The county elections department will not mandate that poll workers wear these items.
Voting machines are supposed to be sanitized hourly and the stylus used for voting is sanitized before each use.
Due to space restrictions at some voting locations, voting machines may not be placed six feet apart. The elections department determined that reducing the number of machines by 40 to 60 percent in order to space them apart would significantly increase voter waiting times, often outside in Texas summer heat.
Garcia said that the elections department has already seen a higher than normal volume of mail-in ballot requests. A mail-in ballot can be requested in Texas by those who are 1) over 65, 2) have a disability, 3) will be out of town on election day, or 4) are jailed but otherwise eligible.
When asked about claiming disability in order to receive a mail-in ballot, Garcia told the commissioners court that “we don’t have the authority to question a claim of disability” on an application.
However, he said that when voters call with questions about claiming a disability in order to vote by mail, his staff reads them the statutory definition of a disability.
The Texas Election Code says a voter can claim disability if “the voter has a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.”
A representative of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office told the commissioners that the law about disabilities has not changed and that there has been no specific provision made for COVID-19.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled in late May that fear of contracting coronavirus does not qualify as a disability under the state’s election code.
The elections department is using some of the CARES grant funding to purchase more ballot and envelope printers and a high-speed sorter to handle an increase in mail-in ballots.
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.