Valley election officials preparing for jump in demand for mail-in ballots

Valley election officials preparing for jump in demand for mail-in ballots
4 years 1 month 3 days ago Friday, April 24 2020 Apr 24, 2020 April 24, 2020 11:37 PM April 24, 2020 in News - Coronavirus Pandemic

There are voters who fear going to the polls, because of the pandemic. If the courts allow them to request a ballot by mail, preparation for election administrators in the Rio Grande Valley will come down to ballots, storage, personnel and safety.

Mail-in ballots in Texas are reserved for people 65 and older, disabled, out of the country during the election or in jail, but otherwise eligible.

A lawsuit filed in Austin is seeking to allow those afraid of contracting the coronavirus at the polls the chance to vote by mail. A court sided with them, but an appeal is going to be filed.

Until a decision is clearly marked, counties are left dealing with this hanging chad – will they need more absentee ballots for July’s election?

“So many of our community members are used to going to the poll location. So, what will happen? It's still up in the air. We don't have the answer,” said Yvonne Ramon, Hidalgo County elections administrator.

Ramon says some mail-in ballots are left over. “We had 12 elections that were postponed. So, those mail-in-ballots for the primary runoff and for those eleven elections weren't used. So, we're ready.”

Hidalgo County will be sending 4,000 ballots by mail to voters who requested them on an annual basis. If they need more, they can print them in-house.

Cameron County outsources its printing. Remi Garza, Cameron County elections administrator, says they’re already preparing for an increase in demand.

“We've doubled what we budget for that. Meaning that we normally would expect to see 3,000 ballots by mail. We're preparing for 6,000 at this stage, but we also have the ability to increase that. They have a higher capacity. So, they can adjust more quickly that we can do internally,” explained Garza.

Garza says outsourcing to third party vendors can be advantageous because of their mass-mailing techniques.

Starr County also solicits those services, but there are no current plans to request a larger order.

“As we get applications, we start ordering more and more. But we do have enough. I don't see a big turnout on this one, because there's no local races on this runoff,” said John Rodriguez, Starr County elections administrator.

If more ballots are printed, they will also need climate-controlled storage space. Another logistical problem election officials have is how to prepare the polling sites.

“I just off the phone right now with an internal briefing for department heads that we have every Monday, Wednesday, Friday. It's the same response. There are no wipes, Clorox, Lysol. There are no disinfectant sprays anywhere, anywhere. So, we're learning how to make our own. We're learning the different avenues that are out there for us,” said Ramon.

Cameron County may require hand sanitization before and after voting. All counties are concerned with social distancing, not just for voters, but poll workers who are typically older and could be more vulnerable to illness.

Hidalgo County said it is already calling volunteers up to ask who will be helping at the polls come July. All administrators want is to know what to do now.

“We need to prepare and anticipate, find the personnel and find larger spaces to process these applications or additional ballots that are going to be returned. Time is the one commodity we can't get back,” said Garza.

The faster the decision comes, the smaller the negative impact they hope voters will see.

In addition, Rodriguez addressed voter fraud. He said they’re going to continue doing their part and looking out for any discrepancies in the applications and report them.

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