AUSTIN, Texas – A federal judge has ordered everyone who enters or works at a Texas polling place to wear a face covering.
The order by U.S. District Judge Jason Pulliam, appointed by President Donald Trump, voided an exemption for polling sites that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had included in his statewide mask mandate.
The exemption, Pulliam ruled, violates the Voting Rights Act “because it creates a discriminatory burden on Black and Latino voters.”
The pandemic has disproportionately affected minorities, placing them at higher risk of severe illness and death and forcing them to make “the unfortunate choice required between voting and minimizing their risk” of exposure under Abbott’s poll exemption, the judge wrote.
'An unbelievable chain of oppression': America's history of racism was a preexisting condition for COVID-19
“This discriminatory effect can be eliminated, or at least mitigated, if all people wear masks at polling sites,” Pulliam wrote.
Shortly afterward, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton informed Pulliam that he will ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the order.
Pulliam’s order applies to all voters, poll workers and poll watchers and came more than two weeks after in-person early voting began in Texas. Early voting will continue through Friday, and Election Day is Tuesday.
The ruling came after the Texas chapter of the NAACP and Mi Familia Vota sued to force the state to adopt a list of safety requirements during the pandemic, including more polling locations, additional voting machines and an extra week of early voting on top of the six additional days already ordered by Abbott.
Pulliam, however, dismissed that lawsuit in early September, ruling that he lacked authority to order the changes because the power to administer elections and set voting procedures belongs to the Legislature and state agencies, not the courts.
The civil rights groups appealed, and the 5th Circuit Court upheld Pulliam’s ruling but returned the matter to his court to determine whether there was a Voting Rights Act violation regarding face masks, which courts do have authority to decide.
Supreme Court upholds Abbott limit on mail ballot drop-off sites
The Texas Supreme Court upheld Abbott’s order limiting counties to one mail-in ballot drop-off location in a Tuesday evening ruling that overturned two lower courts.
The unanimous ruling dissolved an injunction, issued by a Democratic District Court judge in Travis County, that sought to bar enforcement of Abbott’s limit of drop-off locations as an impermissible burden on voting rights.
The all-Republican court determined that although Abbott restricted voters to one site per county to deliver their completed ballots, the governor actually had expanded voting opportunities.
Under Texas law, voters can hand deliver mail-in ballots only on Election Day, but on July 27, Abbott used his emergency powers during the pandemic to allow deliveries for more than five weeks before Nov. 3, the court said.
On Oct. 1, Abbott amended the order to shut down multiple drop sites, forcing Travis County to close three downtown locations one day after they had opened.
“In the end, the plaintiffs’ complaint is that the Governor ultimately decided not to increase their voting options quite as much as he initially announced,” the court said in an unsigned opinion.
Abbott argued that the change was needed to promote ballot security, but Democrats complained that it targeted a handful of large counties, including Austin’s Travis County and Houston’s Harris County, where Democratic voters are in the majority.
Ballot drop-off locations are more secure, Abbott’s opponents argued, because voters must deliver their own ballot, sign an election roster and present photo ID — steps not taken when ballots are mailed.
Follow reporter Chuck Lindell on Twitter: @chucklindell
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Face masks mandatory in all Texas polling locations, judge orders