This article has been updated.
With voters getting an extra week to cast ballots early, the state’s postponed primary runoff finally gets underway Monday.
Originally scheduled for May, the runoff for congressional, state legislative, and county-level races was moved to July 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But with cases in Texas’ cities surging, the election will pose some unprecedented challenges. Early voting for the primary runoff runs from June 29 through July 10, the extra time being added to allow for social distancing and other health precautions.
The coronavirus pandemic has sparked debates nationwide over the expansion of mail-in voting. The Texas Supreme Court ruled last month that a lack of immunity to the new coronavirus does not qualify a voter to apply for a mail-in ballot. Currently, Texas voters can qualify for mail-in ballots only if they are 65 years or older, have a disability or illness, will be out of the county during the election period, or are confined in jail.
Voters who didn’t vote in March can still cast ballots in the runoff election. However, voters who participated in the first round of of the primary must vote in the same party’s runoff. Voters will be asked to wear a masks when voting in person. In person sites will also provide gloves, finger cots and pencils, according to TPR. Curbside voting will also be offered on July 14, but voters must contact the elections office to arrange the service in advance. To check if you are registered to vote in Bexar County, click here.
At the top of the Democratic ballot is the runoff for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate between State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) and U.S. Air Force veteran MJ Hegar. The winner of the runoff will take on Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn in November. The other Democratic statewide race is a runoff for railroad commissioner between Chrysta Castañeda and Roberto R. “Beto” Alonzo for the right to face Republican James Wright.
Here is a look at the races that will appear on local ballots:
In Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which stretches from far West Texas to San Antonio, Republicans Tony Gonzales and Raul Reyes will vie for a chance to square off with Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz Jones. Jones has amassed broad institutional support within the party and is aiming to flip the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes) to the Democrats in November.
Gonzales and Reyes emerged out of a field of nine GOP candidates in March. Gonzales, a San Antonio resident and U.S. Navy veteran, secured 28 percent of the vote compared to 23 percent for Reyes, a U.S. Air Force veteran and Castroville resident.
Two other Congressional runoffs also affect San Antonio.
In the historically Democratic District 20, which covers much of San Antonio’s West and Northwest sides, incumbent U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro is expected to win reelection to a fifth term. Vying for a spot on the ballot against him are Republican candidates Gary Allen and Mauro Garza, who edged out three other candidates in March. Garza secured 33 percent of the vote, and Allen got 28 percent.
Democrat Lloyd Doggett, who has represented District 35 for 13 terms, will face either “Guillermo” William Hayward or Jenny Garcia Sharon, who are fighting for the Republican spot on the ballot. Either Republican nominee will face an uphill battle to represent downtown San Antonio.
State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) and Xochil Peña Rodriguez are facing off to win the Democratic nomination for the District 19 State Senate seat once occupied by former Sen. Carlos Uresti, who is serving a federal prison sentence. The Democrats want to regain the seat won by Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), the first Hispanic Republican elected to the state Senate, in a 2018 special election.
Rodriguez earned about 44 percent of votes in March against Gutierrez’s 37 percent. The race has been a contentious one; earlier this year a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission was filed against Rodriguez. It was dismissed on Thursday, her campaign announced.
The ethics complaint accused Rodriguez of inconsistencies in her campaign finance reporting. She called the claim “fraudulent,” saying it was an “obviously coordinated, politically motivated attack.”
“For months, Roland Gutierrez has been attacking me while hiding behind ‘Vote Texas PAC’ a mysterious Republican-funded PAC to spread lies and fake news about my campaign,” she said in a prepared statement. “The Texas Ethics Commission quickly dismissed the case, clearing our campaign of the false allegations.”
Earlier this year, Rodriguez drew criticism after media reports about her father, former Congressman and current Justice of the Peace Ciro Rodriguez, campaigning for her and continuing to do so even after being told to stop. State law prohibits sitting judges from endorsing political candidates.
Rodriguez, an attorney, declined to comment on her father, saying she’d rather focus on what she wants to get accomplished in office.
“This pandemic has really put us in unprecedented times,” she said. “The poorer communities have been hit hardest. … I want to make sure that the Texas government is responsive to those concerns.”
Gutierrez, who has served five terms in the state Legislature and is making his second run at the state Senate seat, said his opponent could have addressed the situation involving her father on camera several times and she has refused to do so.
“I don’t trust her or her corrupt family and hope voters see through empty, baseless claims of innocence,” he said.
“The fact is that the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct is still investigating her father for his illegal assistance to her campaign, and the Texas Attorney General is still investigating her uncle for illegally steering the exact same amount of taxpayer money to her father that he then gave to her campaign,” Gutierrez told the Rivard Report Thursday evening.
Gutierrez said if he is elected he will file legislation called the “PACT ACT” – the Political Anti Corruption Transparency Act – to “counter the institutional corruption found in family politics.”
In another runoff, Democratic candidates Elizabeth “Liz” Campos and Jenn Ramos are vying for the District 119 seat Gutierrez is vacating. Campos received 46 percent of the vote in March, while Ramos secured 43 percent. District 119 encompasses parts of Universal City, Schertz, Live Oak, Converse, and a large portion of East and Southeast San Antonio.
Incumbent County Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez (Pct. 1) will face Rebeca Clay-Flores in the Democratic runoff. Rodriguez has held the seat for four terms and was first elected in 2004.
Clay-Flores is a former teacher and city employee who graduated from Brackenridge High School before earning degrees from Princeton and Harvard universities. Rodriquez claimed 47 percent of the vote in March to 42 percent for Clay-Flores.
The winner takes on Republican Gabriel Lara in November.
In Precinct 3, Trish DeBerry, a public relations professional, is in a runoff against Tom Rickhoff to be the Republican candidate on the November ballot. Rickhoff, a former appeals court and probate judge, secured 33 percent of the primary vote in March, while DeBerry trailed with 28 percent in a field of eight candidates.
They are vying to replace Kevin Wolff, the lone Republican on the commissioners court who decided not to seek reelection. The winner will face Democrat Christine Hortick in the November general election.
Meanwhile, both the incumbent party chairs heading up Bexar County’s political parties ended up in runoff elections.
On the GOP side, party Chair Cynthia Brehm has been the subject of intense controversy, with some of the state’s top Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott and both U.S. senators, calling for her resignation in light of controversial social media posts and statements, but she has resisted.
Brehm, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, faces a runoff challenge from John Austin, who drew 31 percent of the March vote to Brehm’s 33 percent. That was before Brehm’s controversial statements about the coronavirus and a social media post raising the possibility that George Floyd’s death, captured on video while in police custody, was staged.
Abbott’s spokesman called the post “disgusting” and said it had “no place in the Republican Party or in public discourse.”
Austin told the Rivard Report on Thursday that he is looking to unite the county’s Republicans.
“I think everyone would agree there are fractures in the party,” he said. “We need a leader, and we don’t have that right now. I want to be that leader.”
Turnout will be interesting amid the pandemic, Austin added, but he knows local Republicans will get out and vote.
“I think we’ll have more of a turnout than expected,” he said.
For the Democratic Party Chair, incumbent Monica Alcántara is heading into a runoff with Grace Rose Gonzales. Alcántara received 30 percent of the vote in March, and Gonzales received 27 percent.
Since assuming the role in 2018, Alcántara has faced strong opposition from those who supported her predecessor, Manuel Medina. Medina held the position for six years before losing in 2018 to Alcántara on the heels of his failed mayoral campaign the previous spring.
Following the results in March, Alcántara told the Rivard Report she was not surprised her race came down to a runoff.
“It was designed to be that way by the former chair,” she said, referring to Medina. “So we knew it was in his plans.”
State Board of Education
Voters will choose between Lani Popp and Robert Morrow in the Republican runoff for the State Board of Education District 5 seat. The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Rebecca Bell-Meterau in the November general election.
In the March primary, Morrow received 40 percent of the vote compared to Popp’s 34 percent. Morrow is a controversial candidate and former chair of the Travis County GOP who was forced to give up his leadership position after he filed to run for president as a write-in candidate in the 2016 election. The candidate has repeatedly said he hopes to use a position on the state board to imprison President Donald Trump.
On primary election night, current Travis County GOP Chair Matt Mackowiak voiced opposition to Morrow, tweeting that “we will crush him on [runoff night], or I will light myself on fire.”
Popp is endorsed by all the Republicans on the state board and several statewide elected officials. She works as a speech language pathologist in Northside ISD.
The winner of the seat will replace Ken Mercer, who served District 5 – which spans North Bexar County east to Travis County and includes several small cities such as Alamo Heights, Castle Hills, and Converse – for the past 14 years.
Education Reporter Emily Donaldson contributed to this report.