LUBBOCK, Texas (Reuters) – The Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that in-person voting can begin next week, rejecting requests by some of the state’s top Republicans to push back the start of early voting.
The decision was the latest in a running battle between Texas Republicans and Democrats over how and when people can vote in the most populous Republican-dominated state in the United States.
Texas is a longtime Republican stronghold but this year President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are fighting what could be a tight race to win the state’s electoral votes.
In its ruling, the state’s top court said early voting can begin on Oct. 13, the date set by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in a July proclamation. Abbott said an extra week of early voting was needed because of complications posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Several top Republicans in Texas last month asked the state’s highest court to knock down Abbott’s proclamation and set the beginning of early voting as Oct. 19, the original date it was scheduled to begin. They argued the early voting violated the Texas constitution.
Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote in the court’s majority opinion that the request to overturn Abbott’s proclamation had come too late and should have first been made in the lower courts. To change the schedule now, he wrote, would “threaten voter confusion.”
Neither Abbott’s office nor Allen West, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas which had asked the court to overturn Abbott’s proclamation, immediately responded to requests for comment.
Republicans have successfully beaten back some Democratic efforts to loosen who can vote by absentee ballots and how they may do so.
The Texas Democratic Party lost a long legal fight last month to allow all Texans to vote by mail if they felt endangered by in-person voting because of the pandemic.
Texas is one of the few U.S. states that limits who can request absentee ballots. Only voters who are over the age of 65, have a disability, are confined to a jail or will be out of town on Election Day can vote by mail.
Earlier this month, Abbott declared that each county in the state will be limited to a single site for dropping off absentee ballots, drawing condemnation from Democrats and voting-rights advocates.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Tex.; Editing by Matthew Lewis)