Early voting in the July 14 primary runoff election got off to a brisk start in McLennan County on Monday despite worries about a steep rise in COVID-19 cases.

Election workers in three of the five early voting locations reported 100 percent of the voters on Monday were wearing face coverings.

The Texas Secretary of State has ordered that election officials can only strongly urge voters to wear masks. But those efforts were enhanced by city orders in Waco and Hewitt requiring citizens to wear masks inside businesses, including city offices.

Those voting in the runoff by mail have already returned a total of 3,626 ballots, 200 more than voted by mail in the March primary. Thursday is the deadline for mail-in ballots to be requested.

Meanwhile, 521 voters cast Republican ballots Monday at the county’s five early voting centers, while 179 Democrats voted early.

Election workers are working hard to create safe polling environments, officials said. Besides urging voters to wear masks, voters will be able to keep the pens they use to sign in so they are only used by them.

They also will receive pencils so they can use the eraser end to operate the selection wheel and buttons on voting machines.

Also, poll workers are spraying and wiping down the machines after each person votes, Van Wolfe said.

Curbside voting also is available for anyone physically unable to go inside one of the voting locations.

The pandemic did not deter 85-year-old Lonnie Rollins, a retired Baptist minister and former youth camp administrator, from voting for the first time in McLennan County since moving from Kerrville five years ago to be closer to his grown children.

“I’m not that concerned,” said Rollins, who was wearing a mask. “I just came from the eye doctor’s office and I had to go through all of that there, so here I am coming to vote. I had been an administrator of a large youth camp and they were having the 100th anniversary celebration last week, and they asked me to come talk about some of the history of the camp. There were over 200 people there and only a few were wearing masks, but I think I’m going to be just fine.”

McLennan County Elections Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe said runoff elections generally draw low voter turnouts, with percentages often in the single digits. Monday was busier than expected, Van Wolfe said.

“We are very excited to have this turnout,” she said. “We have had voters that were here ready to vote at 8 a.m. when we opened the doors and we have had a steady stream most of the day. This is my first election with COVID, so I don’t know what to compare it to. But, unfortunately, there normally are low turnouts for these type of elections. We plan for this (runoff) election every election, not knowing how many are going to show up. So we are happy when they do show up.”

Van Wolfe said the pandemic accounts for some of the increase in mail-in votes, as does a 2-year-old law allowing anyone who is over 65 or disabled to apply for annual ballots by mail.

For those voters, the ballots are mailed to them automatically for every election, she said.

Early voting continues through July 10. Early voting locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Thursday. After Independence Day, early voting will resume from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, then from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 6 through July 10.

Early voting locations include the Waco High School Performing Arts Center, 2020 N. 42nd St.; Hewitt City Hall and Library, 200 Patriot Court; the McLennan County Elections Office, 214 N. Fourth St.; the Waco Multi-Purpose Community Center, 1020 Elm Ave.; and the Robinson Community Center, 106 W. Lyndale Drive.

The Democratic Party runoff ballot includes MJ Hegar and Royce West for U.S. Senator; David Jaramillo and Rick Kennedy for District 17 U.S. Representative; and Chrysta Castaneda and Roberto R. “Beto” Alonzo for Railroad Commissioner.

Republicans are choosing between former Congressman Pete Sessions and businesswoman Renee Swann for District 17 U.S. Representative; and between Kristi DeCluitt and Thomas West for judge of 19th State District Court.

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