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Travis County makes million-dollar changes as early voting begins in Texas amid COVID-19 crisis

This won't be voting as usual. The Travis County clerk said they're taking the pandemic seriously and have taken steps to make sure voters are safe.

AUSTIN, Texas — Monday, June 29, marked the beginning of early voting for the Texas Primary Runoff Election. It also marked the beginning of a new voting experience for voters because of COVID-19.

Travis County announced it’s taking some big steps to keep people safe during this pandemic. According to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, the county spent an extra $1 million on this election because of COVID-19. She said that money mainly went to personal protective equipment (PPE) for poll workers and high-speed scanners to process mail-in ballots faster.

Those voting in person will get a covering for their finger to sign in and a popsicle stick to mark their ballots on the machine to avoid touching the screen directly. There will be hand sanitizer available. Another big change is that grocery stores will not be used as voting locations.

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“No grocery stores,” DeBeauvoir said. “I’m so sorry. We love them but it was not possible to socially distance shoppers and voters in a place as small as the grocery store voting area.”

Instead, there are new voting locations that allow them to better space out voting machines. DeBeauvior hopes these changes will make voters feel more comfortable.

“We have tried to be very serious about taking this public health threat into consideration,” DeBeauvior said. “I don’t want anybody to feel like it’s not a safe location so and if anyone sees anything they’re welcome to contact us.”

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The county is also seeing a record number of applications for mail-in ballots. DeBeauvior said they've had 31,000 requests and usually only get a couple thousand for this type of election. She added 85% of voters voting by mail are local and more than 65 years old.

By the end of the day on Monday, June 29, the Travis County Clerk's Office said 5,817 people voted early in person in Travis County. One family of three told KVUE they thought the safety procedures inside were adequate. 

“It was reassuring to see the like, the socially distant lines on the ground so spread people out if there was a line, along with precautions like the shield in front of the people when we had to go in first and then to actually go in and vote. It was very spread out it was good," said Austinite Cheryl Willrich, who was with her husband and son when they voted. 

The county hopes to use the lessons learned in this election for the upcoming presidential election in November. Early voting for the July election ends July 10. Election day is Tuesday, July 14.

WATCH: Nearly 6,000 Travis County voters cast ballots on the first day of early voting

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