Run Offs during COVID-19; Elections adapt to new normal

By Elsa Cavazos, Valley Morning Star

HARLINGEN — Under the shade Norma Hawkins of Harlingen and Mary Ann Flores of Brownsville stood waving to voters as they approached since 8:30 a.m. outside the San Benito Community Building.

Run-off elections started early morning in Cameron County on Tuesday. Presiding judges on site affirmed in this case, voting appeared to be slower.

Wilma Esparza Gonzalez, presiding judge for Pct. 34 and 44 said run-offs are usually slow but this time around, long lines where nowhere to be seen at the Treasure Hills Presbyterian Church.

“ When we had primaries back in February it was just your regular election. At this precinct we have a pretty good number of voters but today it is very slow,” Esparza said. “I do think people have stayed away,” she said.

“ But we do show we have quite a few voters that voted by mail or did early voting,” she said.

Things have changed since February but Esparza said voting ran smoothly and voters adjusted to the precautions placed in the stations.

“ We hardly have had to say anything except to one person to tell them to step back. Most have distanced themselves without us having to address it. Our booths are at least seven to eight feet apart and some of them wanted to use their own pens,” she said.

To enhance hygiene safety, the poll site provided pens that would be thrown away after a voter used it.

“ We have them drop it into a basket and it won’t be used again,” Esparza said.

Besides voting in person other alternatives were provided such as curbside voting and mail voting. Esparza opted to send her vote by mail since she is busy handling the polling station, but she said she recommends it.

“ They have to download an application and fill out the form that needs to be mailed in and if they qualify, they will send in a ballot,” she said. “I am also over 65 and if it had been crowded, I would not have felt comfortable being in long lines with people,” Esparza said.

When it comes to curbside, voters arrived to the station and texted a phone number that would have a station worker come outside and take the voter’s ID. Once the ID is provided, a ballot is taken outside for the voter to use and then is brought inside by the worker.

Esparza said the use of a mask was not mandatory but during the day no one arrived without a mask.

“ Everybody has been pretty cautious. It’s been wonderful, it has been better than I thought it was going to be,” she said.

Hawkins and Flores said a steady stream of people went to vote in the San Benito location they were at. However, campaigning has changed since COVID-19.

“ Before we were picking up our friends and picking them up to vote but now, we can’t because we are afraid, we might get sick or they will,” she said. The two were campaigning for Sheriff Omar Lucio.

Flores said she wasn’t afraid to go out on her own along with Hawkins since they were both wearing their masks and socially distancing.

However, Flores said if the situation was different, she believed more people would be out campaigning.