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Coronavirus in Texas

Coronavirus outbreak could postpone Texas municipal elections until November

Gov. Greg Abbott has yet to issue guidance on the May 26 runoff election.

Voting signs near the Travis County Granger Building election site on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019.

Coronavirus in Texas

Get the latest updates on coronavirus in Texas here. At least 199 Texans’ deaths have been linked to COVID-19, and at least 10,230 people have been diagnosed with the disease. Hospitals are adding more beds, while medical professionals and state leaders are urging Texans to socially distance themselves from others. The state is testing thousands of people a day, but it is often taking longer than a week for Texans to get those results. Learn more about how to get tested here. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Texans are without work as unemployment claims overload the state’s systems. Schools across the state are closed at least until May 4. And Texans all over the state are confronting new challenges during the pandemic.  

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As the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Wednesday that will allow municipalities to postpone their upcoming May 2 elections until November.

The move comes after Abbott issued a disaster declaration over the pandemic that paved the way for him to suspend parts of the state’s election code to allow for postponements. Notably, individual municipalities will still have to act to postpone their elections, but Abbott urged officials to move them to November.

"I strongly encourage local election officials to take advantage of these waivers and postpone their elections until November," Abbott said in a statement. "Right now, the state's focus is responding to COVID-19 — including social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. By delaying this election, our local election officials can assist in that effort."

Growing concerns surrounding the spread of the coronavirus were already cutting into local election officials' plans for the upcoming elections. Officials in at least two large counties said they were losing polling locations because assisted living centers and residential care facilities, home to Texans among the most susceptible to the virus, were opting out of serving as polling locations. In other counties, election officials were keeping an eye on closings of universities, which also serve as polling sites.

As health officials exhort communities to avoid crowds or public places, the coronavirus response was likely making for another kind of electoral challenge, given how elderly the state’s pool of election workers skews. Health officials have said that older people and those with underlying medical conditions are considered high risk.

The May 2 municipal elections are set to feature a litany of local political races from across the state.

Abbott had previously indicated his team was deciphering whether he had the authority to order changes for municipal elections. Unlike state contests, like the upcoming primary runoffs, municipal elections are ordered — and often run — by cities, school districts and other political subdivisions. The proclamation suggests he ultimately concluded he did not have that power to order the postponements himself.

The Texas secretary of state's office, which oversees elections in the state, sent local election officials an advisory shortly after the proclamation was announced offering guidance for entities choosing to postpone. The advisory indicates the elected officials holding offices that were on the ballot for May will continue to hold their positions until November if an election is postponed.

Abbott’s proclamation comes on the heels of Texas Democrats’ request for the state to consider a universal voting-by-mail contingency plan for the upcoming elections, including the May 26 runoff that Abbott has not yet issued guidance on. The proposal would mark a massive expansion of voting by mail, which has been fairly limited in Texas. To be eligible under typical circumstances, a voter has to be 65 years or older, have a disability or illness, be out of the county during the election period, or be confined in jail.

Abbott previously postponed the special election for the Austin area's Texas Senate District 14 due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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