AUSTIN, Texas – A lawsuit about whether coronavirus face masks can be required at polling places in Texas on Election Day was partially revived Wednesday evening by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to local reports.
The original lawsuit aimed for a court order that would require masks, add more voting locations and machines, and tack on an extra week of early voting as precautions amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the Austin-American Statesman reported.
Only the mask issue was sent back down to a lower court, Statesman reporter Chuck Lindell tweeted Wednesday evening.
A three-judge panel ruled that the other parts of the case were rightfully dismissed by the lower court, but sent the mask issue back for further proceedings.
“The changes sought by the Plaintiffs by and large would up-end the process,” since early voting has already begun, the panel wrote – but judges saw “a possible exception” in that argument for the mask-wearing requirement under the Voting Rights Act and returned that part to the lower court for review.
At issue is a portion of one of Texas’ statewide mask orders that requires them in public places, but exempts poll workers and voters. The plaintiffs argued that Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that as a result, not requiring masks at polling places “individually and cumulatively, operate(s) to deny voters the right to vote in a safe, free, fair, and accessible election” in violation of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act.
That section prohibits voting discrimination on the basis of race, color or membership in a protected minority group.
Texas’ upcoming election changes have seen a number of additional court battles as authorities differ over how to keep voters safe this year. The state’s Republican Party on Monday night filed a lawsuit against Harris County officials over curbside and drive-thru voting.
Gov. Greg Abbott has faced multiple lawsuits over a decision to limit ballot pickup locations. He said the move would enhance election security by consolidating drop-off sites and staffing them with on-site observers.