It starts with tents in Houston and turns into a legal melee with forty-eight interested parties in federal court. The November 2020 elections were particularly newsworthy, featuring a contentious presidential race happening many months into an ongoing pandemic. So how do tents and Black’s Law Dictionary come into it?
Harris County, whose county seat is Houston, Texas, responded to public concerns about voting during COVID by expanding “curbside voting” during early voting with drive-through, multi-car tents (as seen here). Curbside voting has long been allowed through Texas Election Code Chapter 64 (Voting Procedures), § 64.009 – Voter Unable to Enter Polling Place. Inability was broadly defined in the Code as “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health,” the latter provision utilized to justify the drive-through voting. However, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released guidance pushing back on this, stating “[f]ear of COVID-19 does not render a voter physically unable to cast a ballot inside a polling place without assistance,” while still recognizing election officials should not question a voter’s qualifications for being “physically unable” to enter the building.