This article has been updated to include information about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's proclamation limiting counties to one mail-in ballot drop-off location.
The upcoming Nov. 3 election is set to be a historic one—in Austin and around the country.
The Travis County Clerk's office expects as many as 100,000 voters will apply for a mail-in ballot by the Oct. 23 deadline, and it has already received nearly double the number of applications it did for the 2016 general election.
"It is most definitely COVID," County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told Austonia earlier this month. "People are afraid to come inside."
Ahead of Election Day, we've rounded up key dates to remember, a guide to voting by mail and some background on the major races at the local, state and federal levels.
Mark your calendars
How to apply for a mail-in ballot
In Texas, only certain voters are eligible to vote by mail. They include: people who are 65 years or older; out of the country during the entire election period; sick or disabled; in jail.
Eligible voters must apply for a mail-in ballot by Friday, Oct. 23. The application form, which can be found here, must be mailed to the following address and received by that date.
Travis County Clerk - Elections Division
P.O. Box 149325
Austin, TX 78714
Given the turmoil at the U.S. Postal Service, DeBeauvoir recommends eligible voters who wish to vote by mail submit their applications as soon as they can.
Once you receive your mail-in ballot, fill it out per the instructions and return it. It must be postmarked by or on Election Day and received the following business day.
Voters who wish to hand-deliver their mail-in ballot can do so. Travis County initially had identified four drive-thru locations where voters could drop off their ballots, starting on Thursday, Oct. 1. However, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation "enhancing ballot security protocols" requiring Texas counties to designate a single office location for ballot drop-off, effective Friday, Oct. 2.
U.S. House Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, called the proclamation an "outrageous act of voter suppression" in a tweet.
Once the Travis County Clerk has identified the sole drop-off location, this article will be updated to provide the details.
The last day to apply for a mail-in ballot in Texas is Fri., Oct. 23. Unlike most states, Texas only allows voters who meet certain eligibility requirements to vote by mail.
Races to watch
President Donald Trump faces off against Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The last time a Democratic candidate won in Texas was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter was on the ballot.
According to a poll tracker compiled by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, Trump is favored to win Texas in three of four polls conducted this month. The fourth poll predicts a tie.
Three-term incumbent Sen. John Cornyn is seeking his fourth term against combat veteran and self-described "badass" MJ Hegar. Cornyn has vastly outraised Hegar, but Democrats are hopeful that their candidate can win.
U.S. House District 10 incumbent Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, faces Democratic candidate Mike Siegel. U.S. House District 21 incumbent Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, faces Democrat, and former gubernatorial candidate, Wendy Davis. And U.S. House District 25 incumbent Rep. Roger WIlliams, R-Austin, faces Democratic candidate Julie Oliver.
Travis County is represented by four members of the state Senate, two of whom are up for reelection this November.
District 21 State Sen. Judith Zaffrini, D-Laredo, will face Republican candidate Frank Pomeroy, and District 24 State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, will face Democratic candidate Clayton Tucker.
Travis County is represented by five members of the state House. One of those members, District 47 incumbent Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, faces Republican challenger Justin Berry, in a race that the Tribune calls a "GOP target."
Travis County Commissioners Court
Three of the five seats that make up the Travis County Commissioners Court are up this November.
Democrat Andy Brown and Republican Michael Lovins will compete for the position of county judge in a special election after Sarah Eckhardt resigned less than two years into her second term to run for state senator. Both candidates were selected by their respective political parties rather than local voters.
The county judge serves as chief executive of the county and oversees the Commissioners Court. The office functions similarly to that of a city's mayor.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion, a Democrat, will run against Republican candidate Solomon Arcoven.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, the sole Republican on the court, is not running for reelection. Democrat Ann Howard will face off against Republican Becky Bray for his seat.
Austin City Council
Half of City Council's 10 seats are up for election this November. Twenty candidates have thrown their hats in the ring.
Council seats are nonpartisan, although all current members are affiliated with the Democratic party. You can find out which district you live in here.
District 2 Council Member Delia Garza will vacate her seat to serve as Travis County attorney. Four candidates—David Chincanchan, Vanessa Fuentes, Casey Ramos and Alex Strenger—are running to replace her. You can read more about them here.
District 4 Council Member Greg Casar faces two competitors, Louis C. Herrin III and Ramesses II Setepenre. You can read more about the candidates here.
District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan is running for reelection against Deedra Harrison, Mackenzie Kelly and Dr. Jennifer Musthaler. You can read more about them here.
District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool faces one opponent, Morgan Witt. You can read more about the race here.
The most crowded race is in District 10, where incumbent Alison Alter faces six other candidates: Ben Easton, Belinda Greene, Pooja Sethi, Robert Thomas, Noel Tristan and Jennifer Virden. You can read more about the field here.
Elected members will be tasked with rewriting the city's land use code, considering further cuts to the Austin Police Department's budget and, if voters approve Proposition A, implementing the $7.1 billion Project Connect transit plan.
There are two local mobility propositions on the November ballot.
Proposition A gives voters the chance to approve a permanent 8.75-cent increase to the city's property tax rate to pay for and maintain Project Connect, a proposed $7.1 billion, 15-year overhaul of Austin's transit system.
Proposition B allows voters to opt into a $460 million active mobility bond, with funding going toward sidewalks, urban trails, bikeways and Vision Zero, a campaign to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
You can read more about these propositions—including their ballot language, who supports and opposes the measures and the tax impact—here.
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It may not come as a surprise that dating app use surged during the pandemic when many had to swap the benefits of in-person dating for on-screen connections. Bumble revenue swelled to $337.2 million in 2020 compared to $275.5 million, Hinge revenue tripled in the same period and Tinder users broke two records from January to March of 2021.
What may be more intriguing, however, is that many apps anticipate more growth into 2022. Hinge expects to double its revenue by the end of 2021, while Tinder has announced several new features to meet new demands in time for what some are calling a "third surge" of COVID-19.
Vaccinated Austinites who had been eager for "Shot Girl Summer"—a season of in-person dating, going out and making up for time lost—may have to get back on the apps, at least partially, as cases rise higher than they've been since February and mask recommendations reenter the picture.
Austin-area resident Chloe Mohr, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, had sometimes used Tinder before the pandemic. While the app wasn't a supplemental replacement for deeper connections during stay-at-home orders, it did help her stay in the dating game and continue meeting new people.
"Using dating apps during the pandemic was easy when wanting something casual or entertaining," Mohr, who now works in marketing, said.
Chloe Mohr turned to Tinder more during the pandemic to stay connected to people. (Chloe Mohr)
Sixty percent of members came to Tinder because they felt lonely and wanted to connect with people, a Tinder study revealed, and chats were 32% longer during the pandemic.
But dating during a pandemic is no walk in the park when there's fear about contracting COVID, Mohr said. She had fears at the beginning
Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and OkCupid have responded to the new dating criteria, adding vaccination badges to profiles in partnership with U.S. and British governments.
In order to meet the demand for a stricter screening process and the superficial nature of swiping, Tinder has also introduced new features that allow users to add videos to their profiles and chat with others before they've even matched.
The new add-ons could be beneficial for the app as interest continues to swell—Google searches for "dating" have hit a five-year high, according to NPR.
But the future of dating could be vastly different—and stay different—even well into the next decade.
According to a Ypulse study, 43% of dating app users said the apps made them feel less lonely in the pandemic. Even post-pandemic, 40% of Tinder users say they plan on video-chatting with their matches before they meet, and being honest, authentic and respecting boundaries have become big talk on the app in the past year.
While it's unclear how the pandemic will shape dating for good, signs show that Austin residents and those nationwide may lean on dating apps once again if social distancing returns to the norm.
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With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone wear a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
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Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
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