Are voters required to wear masks when voting in person?
Well, we thought we knew the answer to that question…until
yesterday. Yesterday (October 27), a federal district judge invalidated an
exemption to Governor Abbott’s statewide mask mandate for voters. The
governor’s face covering mandate issued back on July 2, 2020, GA-29, requires every person in Texas to wear face
coverings under certain circumstances, and with certain exceptions. One of
the exceptions to the mask requirement is for “any person who is voting,
assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an
election, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged.” In other
words, voters were not required to wear masks while voting, although doing so
was highly recommended.
Yesterday, Federal District Judge Jason Pulliam of San Antonio
issued a memorandum opinion voiding and invalidating the
mask-mandate exemption for voting. The legal reasoning behind the opinion is
that the mask mandate exemption for voting violates the Section 2 of the
federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate
on the basis of race, color, or membership in a certain language minority
group. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs challenging the exemption
hold a substantial likelihood of success on the Voting Rights Act claim due,
in part, to data showing that minority groups experience greater risk of
contraction and severity of COVID-19, and that risk can be mitigated by
wearing masks at the polling place.
Where does all of this leave us? As of the time this email
goes out, voters, poll watchers, and election workers in Texas are now
legally required to wear masks due to this decision. Both the governor and
secretary of state have reportedly already appealed the decision to the Fifth
Circuit Court of Appeals, so the situation remains quite fluid at this stage.
What’s the latest on the legal challenge to the governor’s
limitation on where mail-in ballots may be delivered in person?
Following in the footsteps of the federal Fifth Circuit Court
of Appeals, yesterday (October 27) the Texas Supreme Court upheld Governor Abbott’s October 1 proclamation restricting the delivery of mail-in ballots
prior to election day to “a single early voting clerk’s office location that
is publicly designated by the early voting clerk for the return of marked
mail ballots.” According to the opinion, “[t]he Governor’s October
Proclamation provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3
election than does the Election Code. It does not disenfranchise anyone. The
plaintiffs have not established a probable right to an injunction blocking
the October Proclamation.”
Switching gears completely - with Halloween coming up this
weekend, what can local leaders do to promote healthy celebrations?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidance on how to minimize COVID-19 spread at
holiday gatherings, including specific different “risk level” activity
information for Halloween, Día de los Muertos, and Thanksgiving.
Additionally, the CDC has a separate webpage spelling out the best ways to make
trick-or-treating as safe as possible, under the circumstances.
Beyond CDC guidance, the Halloween and Costume Association has
created a website – Halloween2020.org – that includes social distancing tips
and a color-coded COVID-19 risk-level map created by the Harvard Global
Health Institute. The map can be broken down by Texas county, and the website
has guidance on possible Halloween activities based on the risk-level of each
How will the pandemic impact Texas’ economy in 2021 and what
does that mean for cities?
The temporary closure of businesses and unemployment due to
the pandemic have caused sales tax revenues to drop. Even when Texans are
back to work, many city budgets will be upside down, with a greater demand
for services than money to pay for them. At the virtual TML Economic
Development Conference on December 10, Deputy Comptroller Lisa Craven will
present the 2021 state economic forecast, and answer your questions about the
impact on cities. Registration is open.
Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus
TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.