Voting becomes uncertain amid COVID-19 pandemic

Early+voting+begins...

Early voting begins…

Anahy Diaz, Copy Editor

As COVID-19 cases continue to grow across the United States, the virus is predicted to impact one of the most fundamental rights the country’s citizens hold: voting.  

With over 154,00 COVID-19 related deaths reported in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of Aug.4, country leaders have begun to question the future of the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 3.   

President Donald Trump, who is expected to face his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, in the polls, has been pushing for in-person voting despite the pandemic and the constitutional right states hold to run their own elections.  

 In the past, Trump has expressed his belief that mail-in-ballots could be subject to fraud, going as far as toying with the idea of delaying elections until it is safer to vote, something he is not constitutionally titled to do.    

“The universal mail-in-ballots have turned out to be a disaster,” Trump said during a White House press conference Aug. 3.   

In El Paso, mail-in-ballots had a high turn out during the 2020 Primary Runoff Elections, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.   

According to the El Paso County Elections Department, early voting concluded with more than 26,000 in-person and mail-in ballots. The Democratic Primary Runoff had a total of 21,570 ballots, with 14,007 people voting in person and 7,563 voting by mail. In the Republican Primary Runoff, 5,044 ballots were cast, with 4,297 in person votes and 747 mail-in votes.  

Early voting was even extended an extra week, unlike other years, because of the pandemic. Compared week to week with the 2018 elections, turnout this year increased by 22%, with mail-in-ballots increasing by 87%  

“With the mail-in ballots, as well as the in-person early voting, we’ve seen a pretty decent turnout compared to what we normally see,” said Lisa Wise, the El Paso elections administrator, back in July during the early voting period. “I’m hoping that everybody is either voting, if they can, by mail or by early voting when they have more options and we have more opportunity to social distance.”  

Election administrators worked to provide appropriate health precautions during the runoff elections, this included having poll workers wear masks and face shields, providing voters with disposable styluses that can be used for the touch screen machines and having air disinfectant and hand sanitizer available for voters and poll workers.  

“Every election has its own challenges,” Wise said. “This has definitely been probably the most challenging on the logistical side of just making sure that we have enough supplies on things we normally wouldn’t supply.”  

Wise and her team also placed six foot separations on the floor in order to observe social distancing and used germicidal cleaner to help disinfect voting stations after each use. Wise said these elections served as a trial of what might be expected to come during the presidential election.  

“We know there’s stuff we can magnify and amplify to a 50% to 60% turnout and we’re seeing what’s working,” Wise said. “We’re kind of looking at this as a little test run.”   

Similar to runoffs, Gov. Greg Abbott, announced he will be extending the early voting period for the November election by six days. Early voting will now begin Oct. 13 instead of Oct. 19, with the end date remaining the same on Oct. 30.   

Texas residents can register to vote by visiting https://www.votetexas.gov/ , filling out a voter registration application, and mailing it at least 30 days before the election date. People are eligible to vote if they are a U.S. citizen, are at least 17 years and 10 months old or 18 years of age on Election Day, not a convicted felon and have not been declared mentally incapacitated by a court.  

According to the El Paso County Elections Department, a person is qualified for mail-in ballot if he or she is 65-years-old or older, sick or disabled, confined in jail or out of the county on election day and during the early voting time period. The Application for a Ballot by Mail (ABBM) must be submitted to the Early Voting Clerk by mail, email or fax.  

For more information regarding voting or to check one’s voting registration status, visit https://www.votetexas.gov/  .  

 Anahy Diaz may be reached at [email protected]