The Hays County Elections Administrator, Jennifer Anderson, gave commissioners an update regarding the 2020 elections on Tuesday.
Anderson said if voters are registered but not physically living in the county, for whatever reason, are already eligible to vote by mail.
“If you have to temporarily leave a place, but you have an intention of coming back, you can still be registered” to vote in that county, Anderson said.
On April 22, Hays County had 143,586 registered voters, and 26,345 of those registered voters are over the age of 65.
- 3,931 Hays County voters who are 65 or older are registered for vote-by-mail.
- 61 of those applicants indicated a disability.
- 73,589 total people voted in the November 2016 Presidential Election.
Anderson said the department is prepared for at least approximately 22,000 of Hays County voters to submit applications for mail-in-ballots.
“If you know you have a physical condition that prevents you from going to the polling place, you should be utilizing it this year because it’s safer,” Anderson said. “It’s not up to me to determine whether or not it’s appropriate and what meets that qualification.”
Under the state election code, voters must meet one or more of the following requirements to qualify for mail-in-ballots:
- be 65 years or older;
- be disabled;
- be out of the county on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance; or
- be confined in jail, but otherwise eligible.
Anderson said a majority of the county’s poll workers are members of the older population and at a higher risk. The elections office is looking at recording video training sessions for poll workers to have access to for the upcoming election.
According to Anderson, the Hays County Elections Office staff does not accept or reject ballots, verify signatures, or ballot resolutions; that process is performed by the Early Voting ballot board comprised of representatives from each of the political parties on the ballot.
This year, the Ballot by Mail options may be available to more residents due to a recent temporary injunction decision by the court.
On Friday, April 17, Judge Tim Sulak of the Travis County District Court signed a temporary injunction to allow all voters who risk exposure to the coronavirus if they vote in person to ask for a mail-in ballot.
Plaintiffs in the case, which included the Texas Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters of Texas, LWV Austin Area and several others, argued that to prevent wide-scale disenfranchisement during the public health crisis, the court should declare the Texas Election Code definition of “disability” in the vote-by-mail provisions encompasses all registered voters due to COVID-19, according to the lawsuit.
The injunction falls under a portion of the Texas Election Code, allowing absentee ballots for voters with a physical, according to a report by the Texas Tribune.
“Mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are legitimately ill and cannot vote in-person without needing assistance or jeopardizing their health,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement on April 15. “Fear of contracting COVID-19 does not amount to a sickness or physical condition as required by state law.”
Attorneys representing state officials stated they planned to appeal Sulak’s order once it was submitted. As of Sunday, an appeal had not yet been filed.
Anderson said the injunction placed election officials across the state in a place of uncertainty as it allows any Texas voters who fears contracting COVID-19 to apply for mail-in-ballots as a disability.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said, “Voters should never have to choose between their lives and participating in our democracy, period. Following the Texas Democratic Party’s victory in court, it became clear that the existing state law agreed with the Texas Democratic Party’s position that every eligible Texas voter whose health is at risk due to the coronavirus crisis should be able to vote-by-mail.”
On April 29, the Texas Democratic party amended their federal lawsuit regarding vote-by-mail and filed a motion for a preliminary injunction “to provide Texas voters and election officials the clarity they need in advance” of the July 14 election.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court against Governor Greg Abbott, Secretary of State Ruth Hughes, The Travis County Clerk, and the Bexar County Elections Administrator earlier this month.
According to a press release from the Attorney General Office, “a voter ill with COVID-19 and who meets those requirements may apply for a ballot by mail. Fear of contracting COVID-19, however, is a normal emotional reaction to the current pandemic and does not amount to an actual disability that qualifies a voter to receive a ballot by mail.”
The Attorney General sent a letter to county judges and election officials Friday state the following: (The letter can be read here.)
The office states, pursuant to Texas law, the District Court’s order is stayed and has no effect during the ongoing appeal.
According to Anderson, the November election will be the one primarily impacted by the junction as preparations for the July election have already begun across the state.
Anderson highlighted the department’s planned measures for running the election under the current health and safety situation, which include:
- Hand sanitizer
- Alcohol wipes for equipment
- Clorox wipes
- Barrier guards
- Q-tips that voters can take with them (for use selecting options on the screen)
- A log of sanitizing duties
- Online training with added curriculum on the health safety measures in the polling place
- Diagram for equipment placement and flow of traffic for every polling place for social distancing
- Social distancing markers
- Limitations on voters in the polling place at a time
According to the Texas Election Code Sec. 86.004, mail ballots are available no earlier than on the 37th day before Election day and should not be mailed later than 30 days before the election date.
The last day to submit vote by mail applications for the upcoming run-off election is July 2; the first round of mail-in-ballots will go out on May 30.
Voters can still register remotely by printing registration forms off Hays County and the Texas Secretary of State’s office and mailing them off.
Voters can submit an application for Ballot by Mail (ABBM) by printing off the form and mailing it in or by submitting an order online to have an ABBM mailed to them.
More information on ABBM’s can be found here on the Secretary of State’s website.
Anderson said she would need the help of the court to acquire funding to help with the election due to the health and safety concerns and the potential increase in vote-by-mail requests beyond those already anticipated, but she doesn’t know how much additional funding will be needed.
“I don’t know how much the federal funding that is coming down through the Secretary of State’s office is going to cover it,” Anderson said. “They’re projection is it’s going to cover a good amount. Really the only thing I can see us needing the most assistance from the court is the Personal Protective Equipment items and the facility.”
Early voting for the July 14 primary run-off election begins Monday, July 6, and runs through Friday, July 10.
Polling locations and schedules can be found here.Order on Application for Temporary Injunctions and Plea to the Jurisdiction
Mail-in Ballot Guidance Letter_05012020