Vote-by-mail expansion stayed by court ruling; local elections administrators on voting during pandemic

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Vote-by-mail expansions in Texas are at a standstill after a ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, but local election administrators hope it will not stop people from showing up to the polls.

The expansions were meant to make all eligible voters eligible for vote-by-mail ballots after a lawsuit was filed by the Texas Democratic Party because of coronavirus concerns. However, after several legal proceedings, a trial court injunction was stayed on Thursday. spoke with elections administrators in Potter and Randall Counties about how the ruling could affect voter turnout for the primary runoff next month.

To receive a vote by mail ballot in Texas, a voter must fit one of these four criteria:

  • Have a disability
  • Be 65 years of age or older
  • Be out of the county during the voting period
  • Or be confined to jail without a felony conviction

“It will be a disappointment to some people but we hope that it will not impact whether they show up or not because there are still options like curbside voting that in the same way we can protect their health and they can still be able to vote,” said Potter County Elections Administrator, Melynn Huntley.

Huntley said curbside voting will be much slower, but it is a good alternative.

“I don’t want in any way want to imply that we’re going to have drive-up voting. What we’re going to be doing in Potter County is we’re going to be designating a parking place at every polling site that says curbside,” Huntley said. “We can only handle one at a time because it takes two people to work a curbside vote and the equipment goes in and out and in and out. It’s not a fast process necessarily but if you’re patient, if you come early, or a time that we don’t have a lot of people or there’s no one else in curbside, it will work.

Randall County Elections Administrator, Shannon Lackey, said curbside voting has been around in Texas for as long as she can remember.

“If someone doesn’t feel comfortable coming in and they’ve passed the deadline to request a mail ballot, we can take a machine out to their car,” Lackey said.

There will also be social distancing measures put in place in both counties to keep workers and voters safe.

“We’re separating as much as we can our tables by six feet, so your check-in table will be six feet apart and your election equipment will be six feet apart,” Huntley said. “And so, in some places that means that there will not be as much voting equipment in this election, but it should still function because both ballots are short and we’ll still be able to get people in and out.”

Lackey said they have makeshift stylus pens to use when voting so each person is not using them after one another.

“We will have signage that just asks people to please respect the six-foot social distance,” Lackey added. “But I want to reiterate that we will not do anything that will keep a voter from entering to cast a ballot. They have that right to enter.”

Lackey also said she has purchased gloves for voters and workers. There are paper masks, face shields for workers and plenty of hand sanitizer.

Huntley said they will have plexiglass barriers, plenty of cleaning supplies and much more to keep voting booths sanitized.

“…It’s almost a trial run for November,” said Lackey. “We have what we think we need, what we hope will keep everyone safe. We’re doing everything we can possibly think of to do that because that is our main goal.”

Huntley also said there are several mailers out right now from candidates that allow voters to sign their names and apply to vote by mail.

“If we have someone who has already been receiving ballots by mail, they don’t need to apply again,” said Huntley.

Early voting for the July 14 runoff begins June 29 and has been expanded to last through July 10.

Lackey said ballot by mail applications must be received by July 2.

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