Galveston County Judge Mark Henry joined a group of Republicans from around the state in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Texas Supreme Court seeking to block the even earlier start to early voting that Gov. Greg Abbott ordered this year in response to COVID-19 concerns.
The lawsuit asks the court to not allow early voting to start Oct. 13, the date Abbott designated because of the coronavirus pandemic. The group is asking that early voting begin Oct. 19 — the day it would be allowed in a normal year.
Henry joined the lawsuit to defend the security of the election and uphold the rule of law, he said in a statement to The Daily News.
“The Texas Constitution is unequivocally clear — only the Texas Legislature has the authority to suspend state laws,” Henry said. “We cannot allow this pandemic to undermine the lawful and well-established election processes created by our elected representatives and senators in Austin. If changes to early voting were needed, then a special session of the Texas Legislature should have been called.”
Among the other people joining in the lawsuit were conservative activist Steven Hotze, Republican Party of Texas chairman Allen West, Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller, three state senators, five state representatives and Dr. Robin Armstrong, the Republican National Committeeman from Texas, who is a Galveston County resident.
The lawsuit was filed against Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs and seeks to block an order from Abbott that allows Texas polls to open on Oct. 13.
Abbott in July moved up the start of early voting to give voters more time and to prevent crowding at polling places during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
The order drew few, if any, objections at the time. On Aug. 27, Henry voted to approve a list of polling locations to be opened beginning on Oct. 13.
But Tuesday’s lawsuit asserts Abbott doesn’t have the power to move up the election date and that his orders forced Henry to act unlawfully. The lawsuit asserts Abbott should have called a special session of the Texas Legislature to address the issues.
“In a republic form of government with checks and balances built into our state Constitution, one person should not have the sole authority of managing a disaster with no end in sight,” the lawsuit said. “Taxpayers have a constitutional right to be represented.”
The Texas Democratic Party immediately criticized the lawsuit.
“We should be expanding early voting and vote-by-mail options, not cutting them,” said Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Abhi Rahman. “We support voters having every opportunity to vote and have been fighting for those options the entirety of this pandemic — and the decades before that.”
The lawsuit was filed by Houston attorney Jared Woodfill, who has been involved in a number of failed lawsuits challenging emergency actions taken during the pandemic. Woodfill represented a Galveston restaurant that sought to block the city of Galveston from enforcing Abbott’s bar closures earlier this spring.
None of the lawsuits filed to block Abbott’s emergency actions have so far succeeded
In 2020, there will be races and down-ballot races.
There also will be deep, deep down-ballot races that only the most committed voters will stay in the ballot booth to see this year.
Between national, statewide and local races, which are being held in November after being postponed from May because of COVID-19, there are 113 items on the county’s ballot this year.
Not every voter will vote on every race, of course. How long a person’s ballot is depends on where they live and are registered.
The longest ballots likely will be in Dickinson, where voters might end up clicking through nearly 50 pages to complete an entire ballot.
In addition to races for U.S. President, Congress and state representatives, Dickinson voters will choose new council members and school board members, voting on 21 city charter propositions, a school district bond and a community college bond.
There’s no requirement to vote on every item, and the county’s recently purchased voting machines allow people to skip to the end and submit incomplete ballots if that’s what they choose.
This election also will be the first in Texas to be run after the legislature’s elimination of straight-ticket voting. Straight-ticket voting allowed people to vote for every member of one party that was on a ballot. The option was eliminated by a law passed during the 2017 Texas Legislative session.
At the time, Republican legislators argued that eliminating straight-ticket voting would lead to people making themselves more informed voters. Last year, however, a leaked Republican Party of Texas internal memo revealed that officials were worried that more people would split their votes or fail to get to the bottom of their ballots.
That was before the ballots were made even longer by the delays cause by COVID-19 and city council candidates had to worry about competing for attention from up-ballot races.
A copy of every race in Galveston County can be found attached to this column online at galvnews.com.
The Nov. 3 election is in 40 days.