Coronavirus has huge impact on voting and campaigns during an election year

Pandemic impact at polls

HOUSTON – Four words is all it takes for Jaloni Williams to sum up his voting experience during the March 3 Super Tuesday primary election in Texas.

“It was extremely frustrating," Williams said.

Like many others at Texas Southern University, he encountered problems.

“They said I wasn’t a registered voter,” said Williams.

Williams provided KPRC 2 with a cell phone video from that day. The primary was held just over a month ago, before coronavirus impacted the Houston area.

On Tuesday in Wisconsin, long lines and extreme protective measures were front and center as most polling locations never opened for the primary election.

Changes for Harris County

Michael Winn, the director of Harris County Elections told KPRC 2 the voting process is in for a considerable change.

“I think that the venues that have been used in the past, like the schools and the churches and the small places that we’ve used in the past are no longer going to be on the table,” Winn said.

Instead, we could see precincts set up inside large gyms where ballot boxes can be spread out. Or we could see a big push toward ballot by mail. But so far, Harris County has not received any specific orders from the Secretary of State.

On the table is a three-day-old lawsuit filed by Texas Democrats against four people, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Secretary of State Ruth Hughs. They are calling for greater ability regarding voting by mail. The lawsuit says that an election advisory sent out last week by the state’s director of elections is vague and requires clarity.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the former registrar of voters for Harris County said that “voting systems are never perfect.”

Bettencourt also adds the challenges being faced in the state are the same ones that will impact the race for the White House.

“Having a national election in a pandemic is going to be a challenge for everybody,” Bettencourt said.

National changes

Douglas Herman heads the west coast operations for The Strategy Group. Herman has worked with candidates at all levels over the last years 30 years.

Herman expects the political main events slated for this summer will also take on a dramatic transformation.

“Conventions are clearly going to be upended by this,” said Herman.

He says there “needs to be a balance between safety and operations.”

Bettencourt agrees.

“I think in this situation, you have to put the safety first of the voters and the election officials because you don’t want people to be in a situation where they are going to literally get COVID-19 because they are voting,” he said.

While preventative steps can be made similar to other aspects of society, KPRC 2 asked the man in charge of Harris County elections if he can make a guarantee for citizens that their ballots and the election is going to be safe without any compromises.

“I don’t think you can guarantee anything of that sort," Winn said. “What we can say is that we are working on safeguards to make sure we are employing every resource available to us to ensure we get out those ballots and it’s in a safe and secure manner.”

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