11.8% of voters in Travis County have voted early since June 29, exceeding 2018 primary numbers

A sign directs voters inside Ridgetop Elementary School in North Central Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
A sign directs voters inside Ridgetop Elementary School in North Central Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

A sign directs voters inside Ridgetop Elementary School in North Central Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Early voting ended at 7 p.m. on July 10 for the 2020 primary run-off and special election, and numbers from the Travis County Clerk's office show that 97,963 voters have already cast their ballot—either by showing up in person or sending a vote in by mail.

That is 11.8% of Travis County registered voters, a much higher than usual outcome for a primary run-off election. The total turnout for the 2018 primary run-off—including early voting and Election Day—was 8.51%, and that was significantly up from prior years.

The early turnout was also higher than it was in the 2018 primary election—headlined by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke in a heavily democatic election. In that March election, 11.5% of registered voters cast their ballot early.

There are a few caveats in comparing the 2020 primary run-off to prior elections. This year's early voting period was extended due to COVID-19 safety precautions, and nearly 1 million voters in Travis and Bastrop counties can also cast ballots for a Texas Senate special election.

Still, County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the high turnout number is surprising, and she believes one of the reasons is a "pent-up demand" among Travis County residents built up over years to get out and vote in 2020.

"A lot of voters are scared, worried, unhappy—they want to do something that empowers themselves. I think we've seen a big turnout partly for that reason," she said.

That sentiment is reflected in the mail-in ballot numbers. The clerk's office received more than 32,000 requests for mail-in ballots, a level of turnout the office said is expected for a presidential election, not a primary runoff.

In the March 3 primary election, just 11,240 Travis County residents voted by mail. So far in the early voting period this summer, the clerk's office has already processed 16,441 mail-in ballots.

Voters who received a mail-in ballot can still fill it out and mail it back as long as the ballot is postmarked before Election Day on July 14.

DeBeauvoir said about 4,600 residents received an incomplete ballot by mail because they did not include their party they wished to vote in for the primary runoff. Those individuals, and voters who have not received their mail-in ballot yet, can vote in person as long as they follow a certain process.

If the voter received an incorrect ballot, he or she can bring the blank ballot to the polling location and hand it to the poll worker, who will cancel the mail-in ballot, allowing the individual to then use the machines to vote in person.

If a voter has not received a ballot, the resident can bring a photo ID to the polling place, and will receive a provisional ballot. That ballot will count as long as the person does not submit the ballot by mail.

"Double voting will get caught," DeBeauvoir said.

New safety procedures are in place to help protect poll workers and voters from COVID-19. Voters place their identifications into a piece of wood that allows it to be scanned by the poll workers, preventing any contact. Voters also receive latex finger gloves when they go to the machines, sanitizer is available at each polling location, and poll workers all wear face masks. Voters are also encouraged to wear face coverings and stand six feet apart when lining up.

When Texas opted to hold its primary run-off elections in person, DeBeauvoir said she felt she was put in a "moral dilemma."

"I did not think we should be voting in person at all. I felt like the state was forcing me into a position of holding an election that was, in fact, immoral, and inviting voters to get sick," she said. "I could either quit my job ... or do every single thing I could think of to make it as safe as possible for the voters."

Election Day polls are open from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. on July 14. This year, due to concerns about overcrowding, there will be no voting in grocery stores—usually among the most popular polling locations. Signs will be put up at those stores with information on the closest nearby voting location, DeBeauvoir said.

A map of Election Day voting locations that will be updated with live wait times when polls open is available on the Travis County Clerk's website.
By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


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