State Supreme Court Rejects GOP & Rules To Protect Early Voting

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In an opinion handed down earlier this week, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that early voting in the state can begin as planned, on October 13. The newly upheld start date adds almost a week to the ordinary early voting period in the state. The state’s Republican Gov. Greg Abbott originally ordered the additional days of early voting access in response to the Coronavirus, which has made crowding at in-person polling places especially precarious, particularly for medically vulnerable populations. State Republicans including Texas state GOP Chair Allen West, state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, and a selection of state legislators had challenged Abbott’s extension of early voting in court.

As The Texas Tribune reports, those who brought the case against Abbott’s early voting extension were “arguing that Abbott defied state election law, which dictates that early voting typically begins on the 17th day before an election.” Abbott used his emergency powers as the basis for his early voting extension, the Tribune notes. The Coronavirus pandemic has already claimed the lives of well over 200,000 Americans, and it could potentially easily spread at a polling place. States across the country have expanded voting access in response to these concerns, but some Texas Republicans — albeit not the governor — didn’t even want to see less than a week added on to early voting. Although he doesn’t appear to have gotten directly involved in this court case, the president has led his own efforts against expanded voting access around the country.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote in the court’s majority opinion that the timing of the state Republicans’ legal challenge weighed in to the court’s decision to strike it down. The Supreme Court’s ruling emerged mere days before the early voting period was set to begin in the state, and some Texas Republicans would have apparently liked to see a wrench thrown in the cycle. As Hecht noted, “To disrupt the long-planned election procedures as [the state Republicans behind the lawsuit] would have us do would threaten voter confusion.”

This case is definitely not the only recent one involving elections procedure in Texas. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman struck down a recent order from Gov. Abbott that limited Texas counties to one ballot drop-off location apiece. If left in place, that order could have seriously curtailed voting access in places like Harris County, which includes the city of Houston and has a total of over 4.7 million residents — all of whom would have had to rely on the same solitary absentee ballot drop-off box if the state’s Republican governor got his way.

In his ruling, Pitman said:

‘By limiting ballot return centers to one per county, older and disabled voters living in Texas’s largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted.’

Meanwhile, Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa added:

‘Cutting these mail-in voting locations was wrong and done solely to attempt to steal the election from the rising Texas electorate. A county, like Harris County, with more than 4.7 million Texans should have more than one hand delivery location. Limiting counties like Harris is a desperate Republican attempt to hold onto power.’

These cases are some of many in what seems likely to be a contentious and litigation-heavy election cycle.