Ahead of the first statewide election during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott has doubled the length of the early voting period for the upcoming July primary runoff elections.
In a proclamation issued Monday, Abbott ordered early voting for the July 14 runoffs to begin June 29 instead of on July 6. He noted that sticking with the truncated early voting window that’s typical for runoff elections “would prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the COVID-19 disaster.”
Abbott previously used his emergency powers under his statewide disaster declaration to delay the primary runoffs, which were originally slated for May, and a special election for the Austin area’s Texas Senate District 14. Dozens of runoffs are ongoing for party nominations to congressional and local offices. The most prominent is the contest between former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar and state Sen. Royce West of Dallas for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
Local election officials across the state have been deciphering how to safely host voters for the runoff elections under circumstances unseen by even the most veteran among them. They have been stocking up on sanitizing and protective gear and considering plastic shields, like those now common at checkout counters, for check-in stations at polling places.
“In order to ensure that elections proceed efficiently and safely when Texans go to the polls to cast a vote in person during early voting or on election day,” Abbott wrote in the proclamation, “it is necessary to increase the number of days in which polling locations will be open during the early voting period, such that election officials can implement appropriate social distancing and safe hygiene practices.”
The extension of early voting comes as the state continues to face a growing collection of lawsuits in federal and state court aimed at expanding who can qualify to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, but those legal fights remain unresolved.