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With runoffs ahead, campaigning continues as COVID-19 cases rise

Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Images of Wisconsin voters standing at the polls in early April as the coronavirus spread across the country stuck with Jerri Yoss. She wondered how voting could be safe in her home state of Texas, where voting by mail is limited.

So in May she helped launch a new group, "Dems Care Vote Safe," to prepare voters with supplies to protect them at polling places. Yoss knew the campaign manager for Democrat Kim Olson, who is in a congressional primary runoff in Texas' 24th District. The group teamed up with Olson to distribute 5,000 "Vote Safe Kits" to voters ahead of next week's runoff.

The kits, assembled in small plastic bags, include a disposable mask, disposable plastic gloves, a single-use packet of hand sanitizer and an insert from Olson's campaign with information about polling locations.

The effort was just one example of how campaigns have navigated the pandemic as voters, nervous about contracting the contagious virus, weigh whether to go to the polls.

It's a particular challenge in Texas and Alabama, with both states holding primary runoffs on Tuesday at the same time that coronavirus cases are rising in the southern and western parts of the country.

Soon after the pandemic hit, officials in both states postponed the primary runoffs. Alabama's contests were originally scheduled for March 31, while Texas' were supposed to be on May 26. The delay allowed campaigns time to adjust to a new world of virtual campaigning.

 

"It was as if we were frozen in time for a few months," said Craig Murphy, spokesperson for Republican lobbyist Josh Winegarner, who faces former White House physician Ronny Jackson in a runoff in Texas' 13th District.

After delaying the elections and ordering residents to stay at home, both states began to reopen in May. Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott has now paused that process as cases have spiked in recent weeks. This week he ordered that masks be worn in counties with more than 20 cases. On Tuesday, one week before the runoff, Texas reported 10,000 new coronavirus cases, a record for the Lone Star State.

Alabama has also seen cases rise sharply since June. Last week Republican Gov. Kay Ivey extended her "Safe at Home" order, which was supposed to expire at the end of June, until the end of July.

The runoffs are also moving forward amid ongoing legal challenges related to voting by mail in both states. The Supreme Court recently blocked a lawsuit and declined to expedite another seeking to expand voting by mail in Texas, which is limited to people who are over 65, have a physical disability, are out of the country or in jail. The high court also stayed a lower court ruling that had stuck down some requirements around applying for absentee ballots in Alabama.

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