The US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit granted Texas’s request to block an injunction entered by a federal judge in San Antonio who had ruled that the state’s mask exemption for polling sites imposed a “discriminatory burden” on the voting rights of Black and Latino voters.
The appeals court found that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Secretary of State Ruth Hughs were likely to win their argument that the lower court judge had “improperly altered election rules on the eve of the election.”
“[T]he Governor and Sectary’s unrebutted evidence establishes that changing the election rules in the midst of voting would create disparate treatment of voters, and significant confusion and difficulty for voters and poll workers,” the three-judge panel wrote.
The Texas attorney general’s office presented the court with evidence from county election administrators who said that requiring masks “would cause voters
to become angry and confused, and it would slow down our ability to run … polling places” and would require local election officials to quickly train poll workers about what to do if voters showed up without a mask. A state election official said there wasn’t time to do statewide training and voter outreach.
Nearly every state will allow people to cast ballots in person even if they refuse to wear a mask, according to a nationwide survey of state practices by BuzzFeed News, although some states weren’t as explicit about it as Texas.
Texas’s mask mandate featured a clear carve-out for voting, stating that there is an exemption for people who are “‘voting, assisting a voter, serving as a
poll watcher, or actively administering an election.” In an Oct. 27 order, US District Judge Jason Pulliam cited evidence presented by the challengers that given the higher risks that Black and Latino individuals faced from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the mask exemption likely violated the Voting Rights Act.
“[A]ny disruption is outweighed by
the racially discriminatory deterrent effect on Black and Latino citizens’ fundamental right to
vote,” Pulliam wrote.
Texas immediately appealed to the 5th Circuit, which temporarily paused Pulliam’s order while it considered whether to block it in time for Election Day. The order from the three-judge 5th Circuit panel was “per curiam,” which meant no one judge was listed as the main author.
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