The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday night reinstated rules issued by Gov. Greg Abbott allowing voters and poll workers to forego masks at voting sites. The appeals court ruling means that as of now, mask-wearing at the polls cannot be enforced in Texas.
The appeals court issued a temporary stay, reinstating the rules, while it considers other appeals. A federal district judge previously invalidated that part of Abbott's statewide directive about masks and face-coverings. That lower court ruling paved the way for counties to start enforcing mask-wearing at the polls.
United States District Judge Jason Pulliam in the Western District of Texas, had previously ruled that Abbott’s exemption at polling locations violates the Voting Rights Act by imposing a "voting practice or procedure which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of Black and Latino citizens to vote on account of race or color."
The suit was brought by liberal groups. Abbott and the state officials defending his directive are Republicans.
Like in many states, the number of Covid-19 cases in Texas is on the rise, with El Paso seeing an especially strong surge. The state is building tents and a makeshift hospital to house Covid-19 patients in the city.
Given the expectation of a stay, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said in a statement that while he applauded the initial ruling that supported mask-wearing policies, the county will not enforce it. Harris County, which includes Houston, is the largest county in Texas.
"To avoid confusion, we will continue our policy of accommodating all voters, providing those who need it with protective equipment, and strongly encouraging all voters to wear masks at the polls," Hollins said.