We are, as even Gov. Greg Abbott admitted this week, in the middle of pandemic. Across the state, cities, counties and hospitals are reporting record numbers of COVID-19 infections and patients. Municipal budgets and residents' wallets are under threat, as the Texas summer gets hotter and anti-police violence demonstrators march in the streets.
Texas and the rest of the United States are about to go through six months the likes of which they've never experienced. Amid everything, Texans will head to the polls twice — for the primary runoffs on July 14 and the general election on Nov. 3.
Early voting for the runoffs starts Monday. Here's what you need to know:
About those mail-in ballots: If you aren't older than 65, physically unable to vote in person, planning to be out of the county in which you're registered to vote for all of early voting and on Election Day or willing to risk prosecution, you're likely SOL, at least as far as the primary goes.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton successfully argued for a stay of a federal court ruling that expanded mail-in voting access in June. While Texas Democrats and voting-rights advocacy groups have appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, action from that body is unlikely before the fall.
If you're willing to defy the attorney general and ask for a mail-in ballot anyway, the application must be received by your county's voter registrar by July 2. Otherwise, you can vote early and in person from June 29 to July 10.
Preparing to vote in person, if you must: In May, Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs issued guidance for voters at the polls during a pandemic. Those casting ballots, her office said, should wear a mask, maintain 6 feet of distance between themselves and others as much a possible throughout the voting process and bring their own hand sanitizer.
Voters should also bring their own tools to fill out their ballots, according to the state.
"Voters should consider bringing their own marking instruments such as a pen, pencil with eraser, or stylus to use when checking-in to vote and for marking their ballot. Voters should contact their county election office to determine what type of marking devices are appropriate to use for the ballots in their county," the Secretary of State's Office says.
Wear a mask, get in and out as quickly as you can and vote early.
What's on the ballot?: Given that the first round of Texas' primary occurred on March 3, in the Before Time, you're entirely forgiven if you can't remember what's on the runoff ballot.
The biggest statewide race is between former U.S. House candidate and Air Force pilot MJ Hegar and Dallas-based state Sen. Royce West for the right to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November. Hegar has the support of the national Democratic campaign apparatus, while West has a strong base in Dallas County. Whoever wins will be a heavy underdog to Cornyn in the fall.
Democratic voters will also pick a nominee for the state's Railroad Commission — the agency that regulates Texas' oil and gas industry — from Chrysta Castaneda, an oil and gas attorney and engineer, and Roberto Alonzo, a former Texas House member and the brother of longtime Dallas City Council member Monica Alonzo.
Lorraine Birabil, elected to replace Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson in Texas House District 100 this winter, faces a primary challenge in her effort to win a full term from criminal defense attorney Jasmine Crockett.
About 90 miles south of DFW, former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, evicted from his seat in North Dallas in 2018, will attempt to resurrect his political career in Waco. Bill Flores' resignation opened up the seat Sessions is seeking. He's endorsed Sessions' opponent, businesswoman Renee Swann.
Republicans in Dallas County can stay home, as none of their races ended up going to runoff.
Looking forward to November: While the deadline to register to vote in Texas' primary runoff has already passed, you still have plenty of time to sign up before the general election deadline — Oct. 5. While the Supreme Court can still intervene on behalf of the groups seeking to expand mail-in voting, November's election is still slated to be held under the rules currently in effect.
However the pandemic progress, there's a good chance you'll have to brave the COVID-19 risk. Start stocking up on hand sanitizer now.
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