AUSTIN, Texas - Early voting got underway Monday with most of those who showed up already knowing who they would be voting for. However, for some, the unknown was about whether or not voting in person could increase their risk of catching COVID-19.
"I feel safe, taking precautions, as safe as anybody can feel nowadays,” said voter Manuel Gonzales.
The COVID 19 voting protocol in Travis and Williamson counties goes beyond social distancing the machines used to cast a ballot. There are Plexiglas shields, like those used at retail and convenience stores. Special COVID-19 supply kits have also been issued to poll workers in Travis County. The kits are filled with masks, hand sanitizer, and two special items for the voter: fingertip covers and popsicle sticks for activating touchscreens, signing in, and marking votes.
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"There will be hand sanitizing for before and after, and we do encourage everyone, every single person to wear a mask, all of the staff will be wearing one,” said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.
A video produced for Williamson County shows how similar social distancing voting is being done. There is one difference; instead of sticks, the pencils and pens used for touchscreens are sanitized by pushing them through a special oval device. The idea, according to Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis, came from one of the county's Round Rock-based vendors.
"Our understanding from the local vendor, he was using them at schools, selling them to schools, clinics, businesses that have front desks, banks even, where somebody would be using the same writing instrument, over and over again,” said Davis.
A few poll workers in Travis County called in sick Monday morning, but officials say substitutes were ready and filled in without causing any major delays. Bastrop County reported some long lines because it was taking extra time to clean voting stations after each use.
"Yes, I was satisfied with what they had in there,” said Rich Gutierrez.
Turnout in Travis and Williamson counties was described as moderate to steady. A preliminary count showed that 4,816 people voted in Williamson County. First day numbers for Travis County are expected no later than Tuesday morning. The hours polls open and close vary from county to county, but all locations will be closed on the 3rd and 4th for the July 4th holiday.
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.