KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Ashley Lopez

Ashley Lopez is a reporter for WGCU News. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree. 

Previously, Lopez was a reporter for Miami's NPR member station, 

WLRN-Miami Herald News. Before that, she was a reporter at The Florida Independent. She also interned for Talking Points Memo in New York City and WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. She also freelances as a reporter/blogger for the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Send news pitches to wgcunews at wgcu.org

More than 50 Democratic state lawmakers from Texas have now been holed up in a hotel in Washington, D.C., for longer than a week.

The Democrats fled their state to deny Republicans a quorum in an effort to block restrictive voting measures from being passed during an ongoing special legislative session.

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Updated July 12, 2021 at 6:31 PM ET

Texas Republicans introduced another set of sweeping bills that voting rights advocates say could make it harder to vote in a state that already has some of the most restrictive election laws in the country. Democrats left the state on Tuesday in a second effort to block the legislation from moving forward.

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Last year, when Isabel Longoria had to figure out how to safely hold an election during a pandemic, she saw the daunting task as an opportunity to do things differently.

"I just started dreaming," says Longoria, the elections administrator for Harris County in Texas. "And I just said, 'OK, let's start from the beginning — not with what's possible first — but what do voters want, and what's going to make it safer?' "

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Local hospitals are being affected by widespread water issues in the Austin area, following severe weather this week.

St. David's South Austin Medical Center said it lost water pressure from the city Wednesday, creating a series of problems.

"Water feeds the facility's boiler, so as a result, it is also losing heat," David Huffstutler, CEO of St. David's HealthCare, said in a statement.

Georgia Washington, 79, can't drive. Whenever she needs to go somewhere, she asks her daughter or her friends to pick her up.

She has lived in the northern part of Baton Rouge, a predominantly Black area of Louisiana's capital, since 1973. There aren't many resources there, including medical facilities. So when Washington fell ill with COVID-19 last March, she had to get a ride 20 minutes south to get medical attention.

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When it comes to the presidency and the U.S. Senate, Democrats are largely playing offense. That's true further down the ballot, too, for the offices where many of the policies that affect our daily lives are made: state legislatures.

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Many Texans who were hoping to vote by mail during this election are instead having to vote in person.

So far, about a million Texans have cast a ballot during the state's extended early voting period, which started Tuesday.

Texans were put into this position thanks to a confluence of events that includes the solidly Republican state becoming more competitive and the nation's federal courts becoming more conservative.

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Local officials in Texas say they plan to fight a new order from Gov. Greg Abbott to limit the number of places where voters can hand deliver mail-in ballots.

Abbott announced the order Thursday, the same day local election officials opened the drop-off sites.

Starting Friday, Abbott said in a statement, "mail ballots that are delivered in person by voters who are eligible to vote by mail must be delivered to a single early voting clerk's office location as publicly designated by a county's early voting clerk."

Caitlin Boehne wasn't too happy that she had to vote in person during a recent primary runoff in Austin, Texas.

Boehne is under 65 and isn't disabled, so voting by mail wasn't available to her under current Texas law. She says it was a frustrating situation.

"The workers, the voters — everybody has to risk their health in order to participate in the democratic process," she says. "It's astounding."

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In an effort to keep voters safe, states of all political complexions are finding ways to expand access to mail-in ballots as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Then there's Texas.

The state has some of the most restrictive laws limiting vote by mail in the country. Under Texas law, the program is open only to people who are 65 or older, people who will be out of the county during the election, people who are in jail and not convicted, and people who are disabled.

Elizabeth Hernandez moved to the United States from Mexico almost 30 years ago and was days away from becoming an American citizen when her March 15 naturalization ceremony was canceled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It made me sad," said Hernandez, who lives in New Mexico. She hadn't thought much about becoming a citizen until this year because of the upcoming election. "I want to vote for a president who will improve the country."

A version of this story was first posted by member station KUT in Austin.

A Texas judge said Wednesday he will clarify that voters fearful of contracting COVID-19 will be allowed to use mail-in ballots during elections in July and November.

For Texas Democrats, the state's Super Tuesday primary could help define the shape of a party that's on the rise after more than two decades of being shut out of power.

During the Trump administration, the party has experienced a surge of new voters — ranging from suburban voters in areas of Texas historically dominated by Republicans to a new crop of young, racially diverse voters.

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