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McNeely: Expanded mail voting unlikely

Dave McNeely

Dave McNeely

Roughly two-thirds of the states allow universal voting by mail, and five do all their voting exclusively by mail-in ballots: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

But Texas is one of about a third of the states that don’t allow everyone to vote by mail.

To vote by mail in Texas, you must suffer from a disability; be 65 or older on election day; plan to be out of your home county during early voting and on election day; or be in jail.

So far, Gov. Greg Abbott has given no indication that, even during a spiking pandemic, he’s going to relax that stance.

The governor did move some runoff and special elections from May 2 to July 14, and added an extra week to early voting, from June 29 to July 10.

But as Texas has seen the virus spiral out of control, the governor has had to re-tighten restrictions he had relaxed.

As Texas has become one of the hottest spots for the virus spread, along with Florida and Arizona, the governor has had to play catch-up.

He had relaxed lockdown restrictions several weeks ago, trying to allow businesses to reopen, and Texans relaxed — thinking the pandemic must have run its course.

Then the virus took a wild spike, and Abbott later ruefully acknowledged that he probably had approved relaxing restrictions too early.

The week leading up to the Fourth of July weekend was a whirlwind of activity, with lots of criticism for both Abbott, for letting the situation get out of hand, and the Texas Republican Party, for its in-person state convention planned for July 16-18 in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center.

The GOP could take it to a virtual convention, as the Democrats had done with their convention the first week of June that had been scheduled to be held in San Antonio.

On June 30, the Texas Medical Association, one of the sponsors of the GOP convention, called on the party to cancel the in-person, live gathering.

Texas Republican Party Chairman James Dickey had called a virtual meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee for Thursday evening, to decide whether to proceed with their in-person convention.

State Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa this past week criticized the GOP for even considering a live convention during the accelerating pandemic.

“Neither the vanity of hosting an in-person convention nor the lack of skill to host a modern virtual experience are reason enough to put Houston workers and their families at risk,” Hinojosa said.

At the same time, Abbott was drawing calls from newspaper editorials and from the Democratic Party to clamp down again on the virus spread.

Three Democratic state representatives held a Zoom press conference call July 1 called for Abbott to mandate mask-wearing.

On June 26, Abbott finally reversed course on some of his relaxation of earlier responses to the virus. He did things like shutting down bars again and knocking restaurant occupancy back to 50% of capacity.

And last Thursday, he ordered mandatory use of face masks when in public, except under conditions like eating or drinking, exercising outdoors and swimming.

Abbott did allow counties with 20 or fewer cases of COVID-19 to choose to opt out — if the county judge submits an application to do so.

Then he was criticized for waiting so long to clamp down.

When the State Republican Executive Committee voted this past week to press ahead with the in-person convention, the TMA dropped its support.

While saying the TMA was “pleased” with Abbott’s mask-wearing mandate, that wasn’t going to help much, TMA President Diana L. Fite said in a written statement.

“With or without masks, an indoor gathering of thousands of people from all around the state in a city with tens of thousands of active COVID-19 cases poses a significant health risk to convention-goers, convention workers, health care workers, and the residents of Houston,” Fite said.

“We are concerned not only for the city of Houston but also for the communities to which the delegates will return, giving the virus easy transportation to parts of Texas that have far fewer cases,” Fite said.

Now, leading up to the Nov. 3 election for president and many other offices, Abbott gets to see how much heat he can stand while requiring most Texans to avoid crowds, wear masks and stay at home as much as possible — while also saying that if they want to vote, they must risk their own and others’ lives by voting in person, rather than by mail.

— Dave McNeely is an Austin-based columnist who covers Texas politics. His column appears Thursday.

Today's Bible verse

“Those on the rocky soil are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and yet these do not have a firm root; they believe for a while, and in a time of temptation they fall away.”

Luke 8:13

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