Runoff voter turnout increases despite COVID-19 pandemic concerns

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM)–Officials at the El Paso County Elections Department said despite the concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, voter turnout for the primary runoff election actually increased, both in-person and mail-in votes.

The primary runoff election was the first election during the pandemic, which sets the stage for what election departments could expect this coming November for the general election.

“We ended up seeing an over 8 percent turnout which we havent seen before on a primary runoff,” Lisa Wise, the El Paso County Elections Administrator said.

Although 8 percent may seem low, according to Wise, previous runoffs only show a 5 percent turnout.

Wise said the primary runoff was a good way to prepare for November if virus cases continue to rise in Texas and El Paso.

Polling stations took to CDC guidelines for this election including social distancing, keeping voters six feet apart, face masks and sanitizing stations after each use. However, Wise said there are plans to incorporate voting centers which will help reduce wait times while still maintaining a social distance.

“If we have 150 locations and one of them has a 15 or 20 minute wait and you don’t want to have to stand that long socially distancing you can find one within hopefully a mile or two with a much shorter wait,” Wise said.

Wise said despite polling centers following CDC guidelines, there were some challenges.

“The voters were given the exemption on the governor’s order to not be required to wear masks, there was challenges with that because some voters didnt want to wear masks and that put our poll workers in tough situations,” Wise said.

Mail-in ballots also were at an all-time high for a runoff election, but as the current law stands in Texas, only those 65 and older, sick or disabled can mail in their votes. The Elections Department fears without a change allowing all voters the option to mail in their votes, social distancing will be nearly impossible in November.

“With a 7-8 percent turnout that’s doable, but if you start to look at a 60, even 70 percent turnout, you have to figure out how to adjust that,” Wise said.

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