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Fall elections bring pandemic preparations

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HENDERSON COUNTY–County Commissioners’ Court voted Aug. 11 to call an election for Nov. 3 and its associated early-voting period, which will include a big ballot and see social distancing and extra sanitation efforts during the time of COVID-19.
Denise Hernandez, the county Election Administrator, said her office has been gearing up for the November presidential election and told the court that the county Elections Center on Larkin Street in Athens is too small for the expected turnout while being able to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
To address that, the county has arranged with the City of Athens to place at least 12 voting machines at The Texan, a nearby municipally-owned entertainment venue, which would allow enough space for the machines inside and not have people waiting outside, Hernandez said.
That arrangement will take place during the voting cycle except for Saturday, Oct. 24, during which The Texan has a previously arranged event, stated Hernandez. The county will move its voting machines back to the Elections Center on that date, she added.
Fall voting also will be see the consolidation of the previous voting centers at New York Baptist Church and Poynor Community Center into the new Precinct 4 county office building in LaRue, which will be open by that time.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has extended the early-voting period by nearly a week, from Tuesday, Oct. 13 until Friday, Oct. 30, during which the county will hold early voting for 12-hour blocks on Oct. 19, 24 and 26 from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
County Judge Wade McKinney said the fall elections will most likely be the largest turnout the county has had, in terms of raw numbers. He also said straight-ticket voting is no longer an option in Texas, which should slow down the time voters take to cast ballots.
Hernandez said voters in Athens, for example, will have 15-20 pages of electronic balloting to peruse, featuring federal, school district, city and Trinity Valley Community College races. There will be 88 different ballot styles offered around Henderson County, Hernandez added.
Ballot styles are the combination of contests and candidates that appear on voters’ ballots, which depend on his or her voting precinct, and the races for which voters are eligible to cast ballots.
The county also is working on getting a larger early-voting location in Seven Points, the county judge said. Voting in that area previously has been held at Seven Points City Hall. The third location for early voting in the county will be at Chandler Community Center.
In other action, the court approved the county’s employee benefit renewal with the Texas Association of Counties for the 2020-21 fiscal year. The renewal includes a 5-percent increase for health and dental insurance rates for dependents, according to Halie Bever, the county Human Resources Director.
The county already has budgeted for insurance in the upcoming budget, said McKinney, with a maximum monthly employee coverage allocation of $861.84.
The court also set a public hearing for Aug. 25 to erect a gate on a portion of Bluebird Lane in Precinct 4 near Lake Athens, the end of which enters the property of a single landowner. Action stemming from the hearing would allow the county to continue maintaining the road, McKinney said, who added that state law allows dirt-surfaced county roads to be gated minus a lock, without abandoning them.
The court also voted to grant a right-of-way permit to place more than 1,000 linear feet of new water line for new homes along County Road 3400 in Precinct 3, as well as to pay bills worth $453,548.53 and replat one lot into two in Wagontree subdivision in Precinct 4.
 

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