Like politics in general, the issues surrounding the upcoming election have become divisive.
Democrats tend to prefer the expansion of voting by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have pushed for that, while many in the Republican Party are opposed. They also are mostly split on the issue of straight-ticket voting, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against the idea.
As for increasing the time frame for early voting ahead of the Nov. 3 general election, the two major parties might mostly be in agreement. But some of his fellow Republicans have challenged Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to expand early voting by six days, recently suing him in the state’s Supreme Court.
A candidate for a local statehouse seat is crossing party lines in terms of his stance on some of those issues – or at least gingerly stretching his toes across the aisle. Republican Luis La Rotta, who’s vying for the District 148 seat in the Texas House of Representatives, said he favors extended early voting as well as the expansion of mail-in balloting.
“I think we can be reasonable. People don’t want to go vote,” La Rotta said. “I think they should be able to apply for a ballot by mail and vote by mail, at least during this period of a pandemic.”
But La Rotta said he does not think election administrators in Texas should send ballot-by-mail applications to every registered voter, which Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, a Democrat, has expressed interest in doing. His plan is being challenged in court by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, who contends that only those who are legally eligible to vote by mail should be sent absentee applications, meaning voters who are age 65 or older, have a disability that prevents them from voting in person, will be out of the county during early voting and Election Day or are incarcerated but otherwise eligible to vote.
The ongoing litigation is one of multiple legal battles being waged ahead of an election that is shaping up to be unlike any other. Abbott has been sued over his timeline for early voting – Oct. 13-30 – and a federal appellate court is considering whether Texas can implement legislators’ 2017 law that prohibits straight-ticket voting.
Straight-ticket voting, which was considered a benefit to Democrats when it was last utilized during the 2018 election, is not being allowed as of Wednesday.
La Rotta’s opponent, Democrat Penny Morales Shaw, said the back-and-forth battles in the courts so close to an election is leading to confusion among voters. So is the recent rhetoric about the unreliability of the United States Postal Service, she said, which followed policy changes by the post office that have led to slower delivery times.
Multiple federal judges have recently ruled to block those policy changes ahead of the election in response to lawsuits filed by Democrats.
Morales Shaw pinned the blame for the confusion and doubt on Republicans, saying their agenda is to discourage people from voting.
“I’m a 20-year lawyer. When you don’t have a good strong case, one of the strategies you use is muddy the water. Put up smoke screens,” Morales Shaw said. “That’s how I perceive it. Confuse people, muddy the water, put as much doubt in there as you can about the process, what’s legal and what’s not legal, and you will discourage and dissuade.”
Instead of relying on information dispersed by politicians and candidates for elected offices, Morales Shaw said citizens should look to reliable, official sources such as the county clerk’s office and its website, harrisvotes.com.
The deadline to register to vote is Monday, Oct. 5, and mail-in-ballot applications must be received by the office no later than Oct. 23. Registered voters in Harris County can vote at any polling location in the county, whether it’s in their home precinct or not, during early voting and on Election Day.
Republican Wendell Champion, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Sheila Jackson Lee for the U.S. Congressional seat in District 18, said the best way to ensure a vote will be counted is to go to a polling place in person, present identification and cast a ballot.
Champion also said existing election laws should be followed, so he’s against the extension of early voting and the expansion of mail-in balloting. If those rules are to be changed, he said, that should be done through the regular course of lawmaking.
“It’s not enough for us to say we’re in a pandemic, and therefore that gives us the authority to skirt the law,” he said. “No, because where does that lead us? To a society that when it’s politically convenient for either party to make an argument that somehow now, we need to go outside the law.”
With so many legal battles taking place before the election, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the court system could have a say in the outcome of the election. Champion and La Rotta both acknowledged that whoever loses a hotly contested presidential election – Republican incumbent Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden – could challenge the result through litigation.
La Rotta said he’s concerned that “emotion is leading instead of facts” and encouraged leaders in both parties to make it clear they will work together no matter the outcome.
“There’s a lot going on with this election cycle that is unprecedented,” Champion said. “But America’s going to be fine. We’re going to be fine.”
Looking to Lead
Below is a list of political races and candidates important to the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest areas. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5, early voting is from Oct. 13-30 and Election Day is Nov. 3.
*-Donald Trump-Mike Pence, Republican
Joe Biden-Kamala Harris, Democrat
Jo Jorgensen-Jeremy Cohen, Libertarian
Howie Hawkins-Angela Walker, Green Party
U.S. Senator from Texas
*-John Cornyn, Republican
MJ Hegar, Democrat
Kerry Douglas McKennon, Libertarian
David B. Collins, Green Party
U.S. Rep., District 2
*-Dan Crenshaw, Republican
Sima Ladjevardian, Democrat
Elliott Robert Scheirman, Libertarian
U.S. Rep., District 18
Wendell Champion, Republican
*Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat
Luke Spencer, Libertarian
Vince Duncan, independent
State Rep., District 139
*-Jarvis Johnson, Democrat
R. Grizzle Trojacek, Libertarian
State Rep., District 148
Luis La Rotta, Republican
Penny Morales Shaw, Democrat
Harris County District Attorney
Mary Nan Huffman, Republican
*-Kim Ogg, Democrat
Harris County Attorney
John Nation, Republican
Christian Dashaun Menefee, Democrat
Harris County Sheriff
Joe Danna, Republican
*-Ed Gonzalez, Democrat
Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector
Chris Daniel, Republican
*-Ann Harris Bennett, Democrat
Billy Pierce, Libertarian
Harris County Clerk
Stan Stanart, Republican
Teneshia Hudspeth, Democrat
Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 1
*-Rodney Ellis, Democrat (unopposed and declared elected)
Harris County Constable, Precinct 1
*-Alan Rosen, Democrat (unopposed and declared elected)