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EDITORIAL: Let’s protect election staff, fellow citizens while voting this fall

EDITORIAL: Let’s protect election staff, fellow citizens while voting this fall

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For all of his mistakes in reopening Texas’ economy this past spring, Gov. Greg Abbott’s actions since state COVID-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations spiraled out of control have shown far more courage than that of fellow Republican governors. He has resisted kowtowing to a radicalized and irrational Republican base. Yet he balks at safeguarding from infection not only Texans while voting but election workers — the real patriots in all this — who are charged with conducting elections fairly and with all due scrutiny.

Administering elections fairly and with all due scrutiny gets a lot harder when an election worker who cherishes his or her life is apprehensive about voters coming in without the face coverings the governor himself has demanded of us in most other public or business settings.

And if frustrated election workers opt out of the entire process because state leadership won’t help protect them on the very frontlines of democracy, there’s an excellent chance we’ll see what we’ve witnessed elsewhere — fewer polling places because of a lack of election workers; longer lines where voters have a greater chance of contamination when some go unmasked; and the likelihood of bungled balloting and delayed tallies.

We still have time to prevent this train wreck.

This newspaper was happy to see the governor this week extend early voting by six days for fall elections. We would have preferred longer; however, given practical considerations articulated by Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis in an interview with Texas Tribune, further extension might present logistical complications involving vulnerable and skeptical poll workers’ keeping early voting sites manned and operating.

Yes, the Texas Supreme Court did rule that lack of immunity to the novel coronavirus is by itself no legal rationale for seeking to vote by mail, a decision that presumably will apply to the general election. However, the high court also ruled that when a voter requests a mail-in ballot because of a disability, the state has no business pressing that voter about his or her disability. That’s enough that some Texans with underlying health conditions may be able to vote by mail with little fear of being legally challenged.

Our foremost recommendation at this critical juncture, before schools reopen, increasing the prospect of another round of infections setting in shortly before the start of flu season to further complicate everything: Gov. Abbott should get out in front of potential problems and require face coverings of all who enter polling places. This is, after all, a pandemic. It’s not a drill. And the virus is not likely to simply disappear, no matter how much we might wish. It’s high time more of us shared in the sacrifice. To quote a local election worker hospitalized with COVID-19 this month after selflessly manning a polling place for runoff elections where a significant number of voters reportedly neglected to wear face coverings: “Generally speaking, I think everybody ought to wear masks — and those who don’t are fools and don’t care about their fellow man.” Roger that.

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