Among other things the coronavirus is affecting are elections. Many of them have been postponed, in Texas and in other states, and others may be.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday, March 20, postponed the Texas primary election runoffs, scheduled for May 26, to July 14.
"Holding the runoff in May would cause the congregation of large gatherings of people in confined spaces and cause numerous election workers to come into close proximity with others," Abbott said in his declaration. “This would threaten the health and safety of many Texans."
July 14 is the same date he had set on March 16 for a special election to fill the seat of state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Watson, a former Austin mayor, resigned effective April 30 to become the first dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston.
The election to replace him was initially to have been set on May 2 in conjunction with several municipal elections. Abbott has since authorized local officials to postpone their May 2 elections until the Nov. 3 general election and suggested they do so.
Texas Democrats dislike the postponement of the May 26 primary runoff enough -- particularly in the U.S. Senate race -- that they filed suit against it.
The runoff is between M.J. Hegar of Round Rock and Dallas State Sen. Royce West to determine which Democrat will run against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. The Democrats say delaying their consolidating behind one candidate hurts the victor's chances against the better-financed Cornyn, who has been a senator for almost two decades.
About an hour before Abbott declared the postponement late Friday afternoon, Democratic officials, whose negotiations with Republicans the night before had ended in disagreement, filed their suit in Travis County District Court.
They sought a declaratory judgment instructing the secretary of state and Travis County election officials, because of the virus pandemic, to allow all voters to vote by mail and hold the runoff as originally scheduled.
“We must do everything we can to guarantee access to the ballot box for individuals who are practicing social distancing and self-quarantining," said Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party. "Current law says you can vote-by-mail if you are disabled and we believe COVID-19 puts the health of all of us at risk. This lawsuit will allow any person who does not want to risk their health or that of their family’s during this coronavirus pandemic to vote by mail."
Texas law currently limits voting by mail to people over 65; voters who obtain an absentee ballot by swearing they will be out of their county on election day; voters who have a disability or illness; or those confined in jail.
The Texas election code says voters qualify as having a disability if they have a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents them from appearing to vote in person without the likelihood of “injuring the voter’s health.”
“No Texan should have to worry about risking their health in order to exercise their right to vote," Hinojosa said. "We must act before it's too late."
Some local election officials told the Democrats that there would not be enough time before May 26 elections to ramp up for any widespread additional voting by mail.
Early voting for the July 14 elections starts Monday, July 6.