early voting

Appeals Court Halts Decision Extending Gov. Abbott's Mask Mandate Inside Polling Places

Early voting ends Friday, Oct. 30; Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3

A voter smiles behind a mask.
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Voters are once again no longer required to wear masks inside polling places after an appeals court decided Thursday to halt Wednesday's extension of Gov. Abbott's mask mandate.

The order to wear masks while voting lasted less than a day after a federal judge ruled Wednesday that Texas' statewide mask mandate extended to inside polling places.

The order Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Jason Pulliam was handed down after more than 8 million people have already cast ballots in the state.

Pulliam said not requiring face coverings in Texas polling places created a discriminatory burden on Black and Latino voters, who are at higher risk of death and severe illness from the coronavirus.

The judge struck down part of Governor Abbott’s executive order that exempted people from being required to wear masks at polling locations.

Texas Attorney Ken Paxton filed an appeal on Wednesday and on Thursday the appeals court halted the federal judge's decision -- meaning voters once again were not required to wear masks inside polling places.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told NBC 5 that he didn't think Wednesday's change would have much impact in Dallas County where most people have been wearing masks.

"I think it's just a matter of human decency to do that when you're around a bunch of strangers," Jenkins said. "I'm glad that the courts have stepped in and now everyone can feel more safe in polling places."

Voters Nurein Omar and Katie Meneses say their voting experience at the American Airlines Center was quick and without problems.

Both agreed masks are important to have at polling places.

“I don’t see how [requiring masks at polling locations] would be a burden to anybody of any color,” said Omar. “We all get sick the same so it’s like we’re trying to save our lives. I mean, I don’t like wearing a mask but if it’s going to keep my family safe that’s just what we have to do.”

Meneses is an El Paso native.

“It’s important to wear a mask just to be safe and make people comfortable even if you don’t believe in it,” she said. “I’m from EL Paso so obviously the situation is bad there right now and I really emphasize the important of just wearing a mask.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately appealed Tuesday's ruling.

Texas is three weeks into early voting, which ends Friday, but Pulliam said enforcing a mask order would not be disruptive.

On Tuesday, Collin County Judge Chris Hill said he'd tested positive for COVID-19. He added that he was now quarantining with his family and that he would not be able to continue greeting voters at county polling locations.

Hill is the second county judge in North Texas' four largest counties to test positive for COVID-19. Denton County Judge Andy Eads tested positive in mid-October.

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