By: Sarah Depew
On March 13, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a proclamation declaring a state of disaster due to the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering gubernatorial emergency powers authorized in the Texas Disaster Act of 1975. The Texas Disaster Act gives the Governor the authority to “suspend the provisions of any regulatory statute. . . . if strict compliance with the provisions, orders, or rules would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with a disaster.” Using this authority, Gov. Abbott issued a proclamation on July 27, 2020, to expand early voting and suspend portions of the Texas Election Code to allow voters to deliver a marked ballot in person to the early voting clerk’s office before or on Election Day. An “early voting clerk’s office” is understood in both the Texas Election Code and the July Proclamation to include more than the voting clerk’s main office, but also, any satellite offices or locations. For example, Harris County’s Election Administration has ten offices serving 4.7 million residents across 1,777 square miles.
The July Proclamation was not controversial. The order stated that strict compliance with statute governing the return of marked ballots would hinder the state’s coping with COVID—an objective that is indisputably permissible under the Texas Disaster Act.