Coronavirus outbreak could postpone Texas municipal elections until November

Voting signs near the Travis County Granger Building election site on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)
Voting signs near the Travis County Granger Building election site on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued a proclamation that will allow municipalities to postpone their upcoming May 2 elections until November.

The move comes after Abbott issued a disaster declaration over the pandemic that paved the way for him to suspend parts of the state’s election code to allow for postponements. Notably, individual municipalities will still have to act to postpone their elections, but Abbott urged them to move them to November.

"I strongly encourage local election officials to take advantage of these waivers and postpone their elections until November," Abbott said in a statement. "Right now, the state's focus is responding to COVID-19 — including social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. By delaying this election, our local election officials can assist in that effort."

Growing concerns surrounding the spread of the coronavirus were already cutting into local election officials' plans for the upcoming elections. Officials in at least two large counties said they were losing polling locations because assisted living centers and residential care facilities, home to Texans among the most susceptible to the virus, were opting out of serving as polling locations. In other counties, election officials were keeping an eye on university closings, which also serve as polling sites.

As health officials exhort communities to avoid crowds or public places, the coronavirus response was likely making for another kind of electoral challenge given how elderly the state’s pool of election workers skews. Health officials have said that older people and those with underlying medical conditions are considered high-risk.

The May 2 municipal elections are set to feature a litany of local political races from across the state.

Abbott’s proclamation comes on the heels of Texas Democrats’ request for the state to consider a universal voting-by-mail contingency plan for the upcoming elections, including the May 26 runoff that Abbott has not yet issued guidance on. The proposal would mark a massive expansion of voting by mail, which has been fairly limited in Texas. To be eligible under typical circumstances, a voter has to be 65 years or older, have a disability or illness, be out of the county during the election period or be confined in jail.

Abbott previously postponed the special election for the Austin area’s Texas Senate District 14 due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic.