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County plans to spend $968K to prepare for voting in 2020

Thursday, May 7, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Travis County will spend $968,000 to expand ballot-by-mail voting and introduce new safety precautions at voting sites in preparation for the July runoff election and the November general elections.

Already, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told the Commissioners Court on May 5 that the county is receiving 200 requests a day from residents who are fearful of contracting Covid-19 and want to register to vote by mail. There is currently a list of 13,000 applications waiting to be processed.

For those who are still planning to show up physically at the polls, DeBeauvoir said the county will spend $138,000 on personal protective equipment to provide employees and volunteers with masks and voters with an alternative method to touch screens.

“This is going to be expensive and I so regret how expensive this is,” said DeBeauvoir.

To prepare a sufficient number of ballots to send out through the postal system, the county will need to invest in machinery to fold and stuff envelopes as well as equipment to open ballots and sort them in preparation for the Election Day tally. “A lot of these are startup costs that will apply in July,” explained DeBeauvoir, who said the necessary equipment will cost approximately $314,000.

Printing and mailing the ballots will cost the county $275,000. DeBeauvoir said she is anticipating sending 100,000 pieces of mail at $2.75 each.

Additional expenses include $125,000 to translate the full ballot into Spanish, not just the instructions as is currently the case. Also, there will be $116,000 in personnel costs.

Although there is a significant expense associated with preparing for the influx of mail-only voters, DeBeauvoir told commissioners that conducting all voting via mail can save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, she said, “I don’t think we’re going to get that opportunity.”

Texas has strict vote-by-mail restrictions that limit eligibility to those who are 65 or older, have a disability or illness, are confined to jail, or are outside the county during early voting and on election day.

The Texas Democratic Party sued state and local election officials in March, claiming that due to the risk of contracting Covid-19, voters should be eligible to use a mail-in ballot under the “disability” category.

While the courts have not yet made a decision on the case, Travis County is still preparing to accommodate the large number of new vote-by-mail requests.

Not only are people more hesitant to vote in person, some longtime voting sites have rejected the county’s request to use their facilities to set up polls. DeBeauvoir said voting in person may be more difficult than the county initially anticipated as one of the county’s main polling campuses at the Highland Business Center Austin Community College has decided not to host a polling station in July.

Even with nearly $1 million in extra costs, DeBeauvoir told the court that there were funds to cover the expense. However, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt reminded county staff that the expenditures made to accommodate voters as a direct result of the coronavirus are eligible for reimbursement from the $61 million of emergency aid funding the county received from the federal government.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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