AUSTIN, Texas — Concerns about the spread of coronavirus led to the cancellation of South by Southwest (SXSW) and Super Tuesday was plagued with long lines, longer waits and some surprise wins.
Three things to know in Texas Politics
City of Austin and Travis County leaders issued a declaration Friday, effectively canceling SXSW. Festival leaders said they will comply with the recommendation. This is the first time in 34 years that the international interactive, film and music festival won't happen.
The State of Texas now has the ability to test for COVID-19, the coronavirus. Gov. Greg Abbott made the announcement Thursday at the Department of State Health Services lab in Central Austin. That lab and five others across the state are now able to do the testing. Four additional sites will be able to test for COVID-19 by the end of the month.
Once all 10 labs are online, the State will be able to test more than 125 patients each day.
Millions of Texans turned out to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots – and it seemed counties across the state weren't prepared. In Travis County, some poll workers were no-shows over coronavirus fears. Hays County elections staff said it took longer than usual to process voters. But perhaps the most extreme waits happened in Houston. The line at Texas Southern University was so long, poll workers passed out pizza. Some people waited seven hours to vote.
Now, several Texas lawmakers are planning a hearing to discuss the issues. The Texas Civil Rights Project is calling on the Secretary of State to make changes. And national and local Democratic organizations are suing Texas to try and prevent a law that passed in 2017 from going into effect. House Bill 25, which passed on party lines, ends straight-party voting for the November 2020 election. Democrats argue it will make the already long wait times even longer and disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic voters.
Discussing Super Tuesday Troubles with Ross Ramsey
Not only did Super Tuesday lead to a late night and early morning for voters, elections workers and campaigns, problems reporting results left some campaigns thinking they won and others with fingers crossed hoping they'd make it to a runoff. Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Texas Tribune Ross Ramsey sat down with Ashley Goudeau to discuss the election.
Ashley Goudeau: So, let's chat a little bit. First and foremost about how voting went overall. There were a lot of long lines and problems across the State of Texas.
Ross Ramsey: "Yeah, there were. There were a lot of places that just clearly were not ready for the number of people that they had. And it's not that the number of people that they got was particularly unusual. You know, this was about what you would have expected, you know, looking at the early results and looking at how things were going this year. But it was clear that in a lot of places around the state, they couldn't handle it. Texas Southern University, for example, was like an outlier. Kids in line for up to seven hours. I say, kids, it's probably some faculty in there too. But that's a long, long, long time to wait for anything. And it amounts to a kind of voter suppression. You've got to think that some people looked at that and said, 'No, thank you.' You've got to think that some people got in that line and, after three hours, were like, 'I gotta go get the kids, the dog needs to get out,' all of those kinds of things. So, the State's really got a reckoning here. They're going to figure out, you know, how to run elections that allow everybody who wants to vote and ought to vote to vote."
Goudeau: Yeah. When we talk about that, that long line, those long waits, I mean, there were people who hadn't voted at midnight.
Goudeau: And so that, of course, pushed back everything else.
Ramsey: "Well, you can't count them until they cast them. And you know, people are waiting in line to vote and you're sitting there drumming your fingers waiting for a result, you know, there's no way to count the people in line. So, you don't get a final result. So, it takes a while. And, you know, ultimately, the day delay in voting totals isn't going to kill anybody. But making people wait in line for that long suppresses votes and prevents people from voting, makes voting more inconvenient and is really a problem if you're trying to run an efficient and effective democracy."
Goudeau: Do you think the problem was just they didn't have enough voting machines? We're hearing there were about, you know, a dozen machines in a very populous area.
Ramsey: "Yeah, they had a couple of things. You know, there were a lot of people in line. There were some ballots, in some places, the ballots were pretty long. You know, there were a lot of questions on, you know, referendum questions and things like that. And then, in a lot of places, people are using machines they haven't used before. You know, 15 years at the same machines and all of a sudden, 'Oh, what's this? A new iPhone!' Right? So there were a lot of things like that. But all of those things are problems you can anticipate. You know, we knew all of this last week and they could go through and say, 'OK, we've done this to take care of that, we've done this to take care of that, we put in more machines.' It's the same thing the grocery store does when there's a line of carts – they open another register and then they open another register. You can do that at voting places to."
Goudeau: Another issue that we saw on Election Day is the results coming in. So, not only do you have these long lines and people haven't cast these votes, we've got some differences between what the Secretary of State was reporting and what the counties were reporting.
Ramsey: "Right. Some of this is how the entry system works, how the information passes from here to here. You're at the county, you take the votes, you've got 100 votes and then you turn around and you input that into a machine. 'Oops, did I add a zero?' Right? And you get errors like that? And the reconciliation of making sure the results are right, you know, wasn't all there. A lot of that is new machines. A lot of that is, you know, new things like county-wide voting in new places around the state. There's a lot of change going on. And there are a lot of things that make it difficult to do. But still, it didn't operate right for the customers for the voters."
Goudeau: And this impacted several campaigns here in the Austin area. One of the big campaigns that was impacted by this is the District 10 congressional seat for the Democrats. Tell us what happened there.
Ramsey: "Well, so, there was a counting problem. If you looked at the Travis County election site, Mike Siegel was in front with something like 23, 24,000 votes. If you looked at the Secretary of State's site, Mike Siegel was in front by 70,000 votes. And it's because they had a different number for the Travis County vote than Travis County itself had. That's an entry somewhere. But it had people getting up, you know, the morning after and looking at it and say, 'Hey, Siegel won without a runoff,' when in fact, it's a runoff."
Goudeau: Similar situation happened with a state House seat out of Houston, Representative Harold Dutton. And this is a – you made a good point, you said this is one of those things that prove every vote counts.
Ramsey: "I went home –this was my favorite race. I went home at 3 in the morning and thought, you know, 'This Harold Dutton race was the closest race in the state.' He avoided a runoff, apparently, by two votes. Two votes, right? That's like your next-door neighbor finally showed up. But then, we got up the next morning and the results on the Secretary of State site were vastly different from the results on the Harris County site, you know, the original source of this stuff, and it looks like a runoff with, you know, 45% instead of a win with 50% plus two."
Goudeau: So, there's obviously going to be a lot of finger-pointing going forward with this.
Ramsey: "Right. Yeah, I think the first thing and probably the most important thing is kind of, you know, this is built for – to allow people to vote and to allow people to vote efficiently and effectively and without too much hassle. And those things didn't work. You know, there was a bunch of hassle. There were long lines. There were some problems with, you know, people getting used to machines, that's kind of a normal thing. But, you know, if you're trying to run an election system that's smooth and friction-free and efficient, and everybody goes, 'Well, there was nothing to that, I'll vote next time too,' this wasn't that system."
Goudeau: Let's talk about some of the races. Obviously, the big-ticket on the Democratic side was the race for president. And were you surprised at all that former Vice President Biden took Texas?
Ramsey: "I was a little bit surprised at the strength of it. He won with more than 30%. He spread the difference. You know, a lot of the polling has showed he and Bernie Sanders kind of neck-and-neck. Some of it was different, but you know, a lot of neck-and-neck polls. And, you know, clearly the news of the last couple of days before the election helped Biden here as it helped him in other places. And he got a significant went out of it. He's going to, you know, get some delegates out of here. They have to fight now. You know, the next morning, [Mike] Bloomberg got out of the race. So, the Democrats are starting to fall in line. And you know, two weeks ago, we were all talking about, 'Wow, there's still too many candidates here,' and now it's kind of tick-tock, tick-tock, you know? We're playing musical chairs really fast. And I think, you know, you get another week or two of results like these from the remaining primary states and pretty quickly, you're down to two people in this race."
Goudeau: I want to chat with you about the biggest statewide race and, of course, that is the Democratic race for U.S. Senate. No surprises here that it's going to go to a runoff and that MJ Hegar is going to be in it.
Ramsey: "Yeah, it was, you know, the results were interesting and kind of what I expected them to be. If you looked at the statewide numbers, you got a picture. But if you cracked it open and looked at geographic numbers, you got a completely different picture. [State Senator] Royce West did really well in Dallas-Fort Worth. And if you went down to Houston, it was more Amanda Edwards and Chris Bell. Central Texas was MJ Hegar. You know, they were they all had their geographic points of strength. Hegar had a little more money than the other candidates, a little more name ID. She didn't have the kind of money that, you know, lets you do Bloomberg-style advertising all over the state, but she had enough money to get her name known enough in the areas that she wasn't from to overcome some of those geographic differences – that's why she finished first. Second place was a muddle! I mean, all night, it was like a dot race [between West and Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez]. You know, 'This one? No, I think it's going to be that one.' You know, everybody in the newsroom was laying down bets. And, you know, when you finally count it out, it was a very, very close race. So, we're going to have a runoff there. We've got a lot of runoffs. If you go through the ballot, we're going to be pretty busy in May. May 26 is a hard time to get people out to vote. They don't have the marquee race of the president, maybe the Senate, it'll turn into a marquee race and you'll get a turnout, but that's going to be the candidate challenge ahead."
The runoff election is May 26. In addition to the battle between Hegar and West for U.S. Senate, in the Austin area, there are also runoffs for four congressional seats, Districts 10, 17, 31 and 35; two state House seats, Districts 45 and 47; the Travis County Attorney; and the Travis County District Attorney.
The deadline to register to vote in the runoff is April 27.
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