How Could The Coronavirus Pandemic Affect Texas, U.S. Elections?
With primary runoffs on the horizon and a presidential election later this year, will the way Texans register to vote and cast ballots be modified to fit our new coronavirus pandemic reality? What needs to happen to protect the integrity of elections amid the COVID-19 outbreak?
Originally slated for May, Texas municipal governments will now hold primary runoff elections in July due to coronavirus concerns. An executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits Texans from gathering in groups of more than 10 people is in effect until midnight on April 3, but could be extended if the threat persists.
The stimulus relief package approved this week earmarked $400 million to help states with elections, including the expansion of mail-in voting. How will the money be used in Texas? How else could Congress act to protect American elections?
A universal vote-by-mail system would eliminate the possibility of potential transmission at crowded polling locations. Mail-in votes in Texas are currently restricted to voters who are 65 and older, out of the country during an election, or living with a disability or chronic illness.
Texas, an emerging battleground state in 2020, had been making record voter registration gains before the outbreak. Texas is also one of eleven states that does not allow eligible individuals to register online, so registration has been effectively halted while Texans adhere to social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.
Could online registration and the expansion of mail-in voting increase voter participation? What are the biggest challenges for effectively integrating these measures into Texas' democratic process? Do we have the necessary infrastructure and technology?
How are candidates modifying their campaigns amid the viral outbreak? How will social distancing rules be enforced at the polls? What else can be done to ensure elections proceed as planned; that eligible Americans can vote and feel safe doing so?
- Ross Ramsey, executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune
- Thomas Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas
- Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice
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*This interview was recorded on Monday, March 30.