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

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.

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."

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.

Over the past few years, abortion providers in Texas have struggled to reopen clinics that had closed because of restrictive state laws.

There were more than 40 clinics providing abortion in Texas on July 12, 2013 — the day lawmakers approved tough new restrictions and rules for clinics.

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

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, who was behind the botched effort to remove alleged noncitizens from the state's voter rolls, resigned Monday as the Texas Legislature's session came to a close.

After high turnout in last year's midterm elections propelled Democrats to a new House majority and big gains in the states, several Republican-controlled state legislatures are attempting to change voting-related rules in ways that might reduce future voter turnout.

Texas officials are taking a step back on their claim they found 95,000 possible noncitizens in the state's voter rolls. They say it is possible many of the people on their list should not be there.

In a statement Tuesday, the Texas Secretary of State's office said they "are continuing to provide information to the counties to assist them in verifying eligibility of Texas voters."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been charging a record number of people with committing voter fraud, an effort his critics decry as an intimidation campaign designed to discourage minority voters from casting ballots.

In 2018 alone, Paxton's office has prosecuted "33 defendants for a total of 97 election fraud violations," compared with a total of 97 prosecutions on similar charges for the 12-year period between 2005 and 2017, according to a release this month from Paxton's office.

The Texas Senate race wasn't supposed to be competitive this year. But thanks to an imaginative campaign, Beto O'Rourke has energized Democrats, drawing huge crowds and raising tens of millions of dollars in what was initially seen as a long-shot bid to defeat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

States across the country are in the process of receiving grants from the federal government to secure their voting systems.

Earlier this year Congress approved $380 million in grants for states to improve election technology and "make certain election security improvements."

But how states use that money is up to them.

On a recent scorching afternoon in Austin, Texas, Democrat Justin Nelson held a bar crawl in three bars within just a few blocks of each other — and each of those three different bars were in three different congressional districts.

"Even in this baking hot Austin sun, you can walk these three blocks without even being totally drenched in sweat, because these districts are so close," said Nelson, who is campaigning to replace the state's Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, in November.

Election administrators in Austin, Texas, are trying to put an electronic voting system in place before the 2020 presidential election that is more secure than anything else in the market right now.

There are widespread concerns that many of these voting machines are vulnerable to hacking due to aging equipment and design flaws. Following reports of Russian interference in the 2016 election, lawmakers say local governments need to start switching to more secure technology.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Florida's citrus industry has a new problem. It's long wrestled with crop diseases like canker and greening. But the effort to halt greening has killed millions of bees, as growers have increased their use of pesticides.

More than 200 manatees have died in Florida's waterways since January from an algae bloom called red tide, just as wildlife officials try to remove the marine mammal from the endangered species list.

It used to be boat propellers that were the biggest killer of manatees, but red tide has been especially bad this year.

Florida Fish and Wildlife officer Steve Rice routinely scours the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida for dead manatees. He has found more than 20 in the past few weeks.