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Politics

Federal Appeals Court Temporarily Blocks Expanded Vote By Mail In Texas

Voters wait in line to cast ballots at the ACC Highland campus on March 3.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Voting rights groups want Texas to open up vote-by-mail rules to allow residents worried about the coronavirus to avoid voting in person.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is not letting Texas open its ballot-by-mail program during the coronavirus pandemic, while legal challenges move through the federal and state court system.

The court on Thursday sided with state officials, namely Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who have argued that allowing more people to vote by mail here violates Texas law. 

In their ruling, judges wrote, “there is no doubt that [the virus] poses risks of harm to all Americans, including Texas voters. … But our decision is limited to determining irreparable harm not in denying the plaintiff requested relief outright but in temporarily staying the injunction pending a full appeal.”

Texas has one of the strictest vote-by-mail programs in the country. The program is open only to people age 65 or older, people who will be out of the county, people who are in jail and not convicted, and people who are sick or disabled.

Voting rights groups, as well as the Texas Democratic Party, have argued people who do not have immunity to COVID-19 can be harmed by going to a polling site – which allows them to seek a mail-in ballot under the disability category.

Paxton has argued, however, that voters shouldn’t be able to use COVID-19 as a measure of whether the program should be expanded. He has also argued, without evidence, that expanding the program will lead to fraud.

“Allowing universal mail-in ballots, which are particularly vulnerable to fraud, would only lead to greater election fraud and disenfranchise lawful voters,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday. “The unanimous Fifth Circuit ruling puts a stop to this blatant violation of Texas law.”   

According to years of studies and research, however, fraud in U.S. elections is extremely rare.

There is also growing public support for expanded access to vote by mail. Multiple polls show more than 60% of American voters would like access to mail-in ballots due to the pandemic.

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

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