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Voting Rights Advocates At The Ready As Election Day Caps Litigious Season

David Martin Davies

The 2020 election has seen an unprecedented amount of litigation. Battles over drive-thru voting in Harris County along with suits against Governor Gregg Abbott for both extending early voting by a week and limiting the number of drop off locations to one per county regardless of size are just the most recent in a series of legal battles.

| Related: 5th Circuit Denies GOP Request To Block Drive Through Voting in Harris County |

“In a normal year, we engage in typically one to two legal cases to protect voting rights for young people all across the state. I believe this year we have engaged six,” said H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, a nonpartisan voting rights group.

Those cases have gone before the Texas Supreme Court and federal appeals courts. Two of those legal battles were with Bexar County. MOVE Texas sued when the county suspended training new deputy registrars and it sued to increase the number of voting centers to 302 in the county. It won both.

The Texas Civil Rights Project joined Move Texas in its battle to up the number of voting centers and another over the accessibility of curbside voting in Bexar County. Joaquin Gonzalez, a staff attorney with TCRP, said they got a lot of complaints from voters about the option intended to limit a person’s exposure to others.

“Individuals were having to go inside in order to request service. It defeats the purpose,” he said.

Ultimately TCRP won and Bexar county added signage with phone numbers or external buzzers.

These voting rights advocates are gearing up for more legal battles as election day caps a tumultuous year. As with every year, they will have people manning their 800 numbers to take complaints and attorneys on hand to swoop in.

“We've been working for a couple months now preparing litigation, like the briefs and that sort of thing in advance,” Gonzalez said.

The ACLU of Texas, League of Women Voters, TCRP and dozens of other organizations are taking calls and monitoring for issues through the day.

One unresolved issue is what voters should do if they are too ill to vote or need an emergency absentee ballot but got sick after the mail-in request deadline, which is 11 days prior to the election. The election code requires a note from a doctor, something advocates call burdensome, especially for the very sick or low income. There were a few reports in July detailing people’s attempts at obtaining the ballots for Texas’ runoff election.

“The fact that I kept at it and kept at it is the only reason I got to send my ballot in,” said Linda Harrison in July. Harrison, a registered nurse who came down with COVID, struggled for several days to get a note from a doctor while self-quarantining.

State leaders took no action to address the gap that could impact voting. MOVE Texas launched a free hotline that connects voters needing the state-mandated note to one of 15 doctors who can diagnose issues via telehealth.

  • MOVE Texas' Telehealth Hotline is 1-833-4-MOVETX

“We’re taking the calls, but you know its like one of those things where we are trying to get as many of them connected to physicians as we possibly can,” said Galloway.

Galloway said the hotline has been very active, but declined to say how many voters they have helped.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive