Early voting can start Oct. 13, as scheduled, Texas Supreme Court rules

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A sign reading “Vote Here” points toward a polling place in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

(TEXAS TRIBUNE) – Early voting in Texas can begin Oct. 13, following the timeline the governor laid out months ago, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, rejecting a request from several top Texas Republicans to limit the timeframe for voters to cast their ballots.

In July, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered that early voting for the general election in Texas begin nearly a week earlier than usual, a response to the coronavirus pandemic. But a number of prominent Republicans, including state party Chair Allen West, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and several members of the Texas Legislature, challenged that timeframe in September, arguing that Abbott defied state election law, which dictates that early voting typically begins on the 17th day before an election — this year, Oct. 19.

Abbott added six days to the early voting period through an executive order, an exercise of the emergency powers he has leaned into during the virus crisis. The Republicans who sued him argued this was an overreach.

The state’s highest civil court, which is entirely held by Republicans, ruled that the GOP officials who sued challenging Abbott’s extension waited until the last minute to do so, when he had already extended early voting in the primary election and announced he would do the same for the general months ago. Chief Justice Nathan Hecht noted also that the election is already underway.

“To disrupt the long-planned election procedures as relators would have us do would threaten voter confusion,” he wrote in the opinion.

Democrats have urged Texas’ top Republican leaders to expand voting access, in particular by allowing more Texas voters to mail in their ballots — an option currently only available to voters who are 65 or over, confined in jail but otherwise eligible, out of the county during the voting period or who cite a disability. But state Republican leaders have resisted those calls, fighting Democrats fiercely in court on such issues and sticking largely to business as usual.

Abbott’s order to extend the early voting period has been the main way the state adjusted voting procedures during the pandemic. Local officials are also implementing safety precautions at the polls, including getting creative with polling location choices, stocking up on sanitizer and mandating social distancing in lines. Masks are encouraged but not required at polling places — one of a few exemptions Abbott gave from a statewide mask order earlier this year.

Abbott had also doubled the early voting period for lower-turnout primary runoff elections held in July.

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