Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order earlier this week to double the number of days in the early voting period for the primary election runoffs is a good move to spread out when people might choose to cast their ballot at any given time.
It does not, however, resolve one of the greatest problems posed if the spread of the new coronavirus has not been brought fully under control when early voting begins June 29 — a short six weeks away. That issue is adequately preventing the virus from being passed via traffic into and out of polling places and on touch-screen voting machines.
Among the runoffs gaining significant attention in southern Brazoria County is the Republican race for Texas House District 25, long represented by Speaker Dennis Bonnen of Angleton. County Tax Assessor-Collector Ro’Vin Garrett received the most votes in the primary March 3, but not more than half of those cast, setting up the runoff against Angleton City Councilman Cody Vasut.
The winner will face former Angleton mayor Patrick Henry in the November general election.
Democrats’ top runoff has M.J. Hegar and Royce West seeking to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
How to protect voters exercising their voting rights, not to mention those working polling places, is not an easy riddle for election officials to solve.
Among the measures being worked on are plastic screens at check-in stations and protective gear for poll workers, and plenty of hand sanitizers for both workers and voters. Providing a stylus for voters to use, such as those people get for their cellphones and tablets, would keep the screens free of germs, though that option carries a significant cost.
Mail-in balloting, the predominant method for avoiding in-person voting, carried enough flaws — a lack of confidence in the security of vote-by-mail chief among them — combined with the short window to produce enough ballots makes that possibility untenable. Expanding eligibility to include groups considered high risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19 should be considered, but worry about the disease alone is not enough cause to be granted mail-in balloting.
Voting is a right that should not be infringed upon by the government or a pandemic, and the potential spread of the new coronavirus should not interfere with people casting ballots any more than it interferes with their ability to go grocery shopping. Common-sense safeguards including social distancing, wearing masks and gloves and proper hygiene when voting will be as effective in a polling place as they are other public places.
Expanded voting opportunities combined with people protecting themselves will ensure a smooth, safe voting process.