Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is extending the early voting period for the upcoming Nov. 3 election by nearly a week due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but universal mail-in voting for Texans is still prohibited as many other states relax voting by mail restrictions.
The governor's office made the announcement Monday, saying Abbott had issued a proclamation allowing in-person early voting as beginning Tuesday, Oct. 13. Early voting runs through Friday, Oct. 30.
The proclamation also expands the period in which marked mail-in ballots may be delivered in person to the early voting clerk’s office, allowing such delivery prior to as well as on Election Day.
"As we respond to COVID-19, the State of Texas is focused on strategies that preserve Texans’ ability to vote in a way that also mitigates the spread of the virus," said Abbott. "By extending the early voting period and expanding the period in which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility to cast their ballots, while at the same time protecting themselves and others from COVID-19."
Abbott and other Republican leaders, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have resisted efforts by Democrats to allow universal mail-in ballots statewide over concerns of voter fraud.
To be eligible to vote by mail in Texas a person must be 65 or older, or disabled, or out of the country on Election Day or during early voting, or be confined in jail.
Supporters of the mail-in voting said if the risk of voter fraud didn't exist for those over 65, or for those who met other criteria outlined by the state, that it should be made available to all Texans so that they may vote without exposing themselves to others while waiting in line at polling centers or while using voting machines.
Paxton has said fear of contracting COVID-19 is an insufficient reason for obtaining a mail-in ballot. A federal judge in Texas sided with Democrats in May, but that decision is on hold pending appeal.
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Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request by Texas Democrats for an emergency ruling while the original case is tied up at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Texas Democrats were critical of the governor's proclamation and released the following statement Monday afternoon:
“Abbott’s decision to extend early voting by six days is exactly like his COVID-19 response: the bare minimum and not fully thought through. Although this is a step, Abbott, Paxton and the rest of the statewide leadership that designed a punishing voter ID law, voter purges and redistricting maps, all struck down by federal courts, continue to do the absolute littlest they can to make it look like they value the right to vote. They don’t. National public health and voting experts agree: We need expanded mail voting for Texans under the age of 65, more money for county clerks to carry out elections, and leadership from our state leaders that supports voters instead of disenfranchising their rights. Governor Abbott had the opportunity to make voting convenient and safe for all Texans -- he didn’t. The Texas Democratic Party is fighting every day for every Texans’ right to vote. If only their Governor was doing the same.”
According to The Washington Post, at least 75% of American voters will be able to cast ballots by mail this fall after many states modified mail-in voting restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic.