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Texas Attorney General Asks State Supreme Court To Weigh In On Ballot-By-Mail Fight

Voters line up to cast ballots at Austin Community College's Highland Campus in 2016.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Voting rights groups want Texas to open up vote-by-mail rules to allow residents worried about the coronavirus to avoid voting in person.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on the state's vote-by-mail laws, bypassing a state appeals court.

The Texas Democratic Party sued state and local election officials in March to get clarification on whether state law allows voters who don't want to risk exposure to the coronavirus to use mail-in ballots during elections in July and November.

Last month, a Travis County district judge sided with plaintiffs in the case, effectively opening up mail-in voting in the state.

Paxton filed a petition Wednesday directly with the Texas Supreme Court, however, “requesting that the court compel the early-voting clerks for Dallas, Cameron, El Paso, Harris and Travis Counties to follow Texas law on mail-in ballots,” according to a press release from his office.

“Preparations for the upcoming elections have already begun, and Respondents are urging voters to apply to vote by mail even when those voters do not meet the Legislature’s test for eligibility to do so,” his petition says. “Every day that passes, more applications are submitted, and it becomes increasingly challenging to disentangle voters who meet the statutory definition of ‘disabled’ from those who do not. The damage to election integrity increases with every day that Respondents misapply Texas law.”

Despite the back and forth in the courts, local election officials have said voters are free to seek a ballot by mail. Under state law, these officials don’t have the authority to question the excuse an applicant uses to seek a mail-in ballot, even if they are requesting one under the disability category.

Voting rights groups have argued since early on in the pandemic that the state should be moving quickly to ensure there is a safe way for Texans to vote this year.

Josh Levin, the election protection outreach fellow at the Texas Civil Rights Project, has said the state’s ballot-by-mail system was not effectively serving voters well before the pandemic.

“We have the resources right now to be able to loosen the restrictions on vote-by-mail,” he told KUT in March. “We have the moral authority … to make sure people’s right to vote is not impeded.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project also recently asked a lower court to stop Paxton from threatening local officials and undermining the previous district court order.

In the meantime, Paxton has contradicted that order in public statements.

“It is unfortunate that certain county election officials have refused to perform their duties and have instead unlawfully gone beyond the Legislature’s determination of who is eligible to vote by mail,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “My office will continue to defend the integrity of Texas’s election laws.” 

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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