Texas tells locals they must delay their upcoming May elections

Williamson Co. residents vote at Southwestern University’s Howry Center in Georgetown on March 3, 2020. Angela Piazza for The Texas Tribune

Citing the state’s stay-at-home order, the Texas Secretary of State is instructing municipalities to delay their May 2 elections.

In an email to local election officials sent Thursday afternoon, the state’s director of elections Keith Ingram said cities, towns and school boards that hadn’t pushed their upcoming elections to November “must take action to do so immediately” or risk facing a challenge in court.

“If you don’t move your May 2nd election, you are subjecting voters to health risks and potential criminal violations,” Ingram wrote. “Failure to postpone your election will put your election at severe risk for an election contest.”

In response to the new coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott paved the way for postponements two weeks ago with an emergency proclamation suspending parts of the state's election code. Since then, municipalities and other local entities across most of Texas had voted to cancel their traditional early May elections.

But a handful of towns and special districts were still planning to go ahead with their May votes even as many county election officials told locals they wouldn’t run their elections. Some city councils cited a state constitutional requirement to fill some vacancies within 120 days. Others feared the measures on the May ballot would get lost at the bottom of a robust November general election ballot.

Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order telling Texans to stay at home for the next month unless they are taking part in essential services and activities. In announcing his order, the governor made clear he expects all Texans to adhere to the guidance or face criminal punishment. The order lasts until April 30. Early voting for municipal elections would have started before then.

Though election workers are included under the federal government’s guidance on essential workers, that would not include voters, Ingram said.