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Early voting starts in Texas amid concerns of growing coronavirus cases

Texas election administrators say July primary runoff – with distancing and cleaning – will serve as training for potentially historic November turnout

DALLAS — Early voting for the primary runoff started Monday as voters in North Texas navigated the polls amid concern over growing daily coronavirus case counts.

Polling locations throughout the state have what has now become familiar in many grocery stores and other indoor settings – clear markings on flooring to ensure at least 6 feet of physical distancing.

Election administrators also have placed hand sanitizer stations inside polling places and are providing masks for voters.

Poll workers are required to wear masks, but the Texas Secretary of State’s office has only issued recommendations for voters to wear one.

Election administrators say they have a variety of strategies to keep voters safe.

Bruce Sherbet, the elections administrator in Collin County, says voting machines are placed to allow greater social distancing, and voters will notice plexiglass at check-in to keep them separated from poll workers.

Sherbet says Collin County will also offer q-tips for voters to use the touchscreen ballots.

“The idea here is contact-less as much as possible,” Sherbet said.

RELATED: Voter guide: What you need to know before heading to the polls for Texas' primary runoffs

Voters are also encouraged to bring their own pen to sign the poll book.

Brandy Grimes, the deputy elections administrator in Denton County, says voting machines will be cleaned regularly.

"We are instructing the poll workers to sanitize every pen after use, routinely clean all voting booths, doorknobs, styluses and screens," Grimes said.

The runoff, originally set for May, will be the first time a statewide election will be held while officials work to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Sherbet said primary runoff typically produces turnout in the low single digits so the election on July 14 is considered a primer for November when as many as half of Texas’ 16 million registered voters could turn out.

“We are concerned about it, especially if we still have COVID-19 in a very big way in November,” Sherbet said. “It’s going to be a very big challenge for all of us that run elections.”

Sherbet said the increased spacing inside polling locations means fewer voting booths – not a big issue for this primary runoff, but one that will present challenges in the fall.

Early voting runs through July 10. Election day is July 14.

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