The Texas Legislature's rules, which say you have to be older than 65, have an illness or disability or have plans to be out of your home county throughout early voting and on Election Day — remain in effect as interpreted by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. If you merely fear voting in person would put you at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19, you can't vote from home.
Paxton could just stop fighting the twin state and federal lawsuits that have won trial court injunctions guaranteeing mail-in ballots for everyone who wants one, but he hasn't, meaning there's a possibility Texans will have to wait in line at a polling place during a pandemic. Tuesday afternoon, Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs issued a list of directives for those who plan to cast ballots and county officials running polling places.
Voters are instructed to maintain 6 feet of physical distance "to the extent feasible" between themselves and everyone else at their polling places. They should, according to Hughs' instructions, bring their own hand sanitizer and consider wearing a face covering. Voters with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 "may want to consider utilizing curbside voting," according to the secretary of state.
"Voters should consider bringing their own marking instruments such as a pen, pencil with eraser, or stylus to use when checking-in to vote and for marking their ballot." — Texas Secretary of State's Office
It's also a good idea to bring your own voting equipment, according to the secretary.
"Voters should consider bringing their own marking instruments such as a pen, pencil with eraser, or stylus to use when checking-in to vote and for marking their ballot. Voters should contact their county election office to determine what type of marking devices are appropriate to use for the ballots in their county," the checklist says.
As voters check in, poll officials will decide whether they will be required to pull down their masks in order to have their identity verified, according to the memo. Poll workers should wear masks and mark off spots on the floor so voters can easily maintain 6 feet of separation. Frequently touched surfaces in polling places that aren't an essential part of voting should be blocked off, according to the new guidelines.
Texas' mail-in voting fight is tied up in federal appeals court. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that expansion of mail-in voting in the state should remain on hold until Paxton's appeal of a lower court ruling is fully heard.
Friday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he thinks Texas Democrats and voting rights groups want mail-in voting expanded so they can commit voter fraud.
"There is no reason — capital N, capital O — no reason that anyone under 65 should be able to say 'I am afraid to go vote,'" Patrick told Fox News. "Have they been to a grocery store? Have they been to Walmart? Have they been to Lowe’s? Have they been to Home Depot? Have they been anywhere? Have they been afraid to go out of their house? This is a scam by the Democrats to steal the election."
The Texas Democratic Party — one of the plaintiffs in the suit to expand mail-in voting — has argued throughout the court battle that it wants as many Texans as possible to have access to voting during the pandemic.
“Our state is better off when more Texans participate in our democracy," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said May 19. "Voting by mail is safe, secure, and accessible. It allows more voters to participate, and it’s a commonsense way to run an election, especially during a public health crisis."