The Texas Democratic Party filed applications with the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday asking justices to rule on whether the state should be forced to open up its vote-by-mail program during the coronavirus pandemic.
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 they reside in, people who are in jail and not convicted, and people who are sick or disabled.
The Texas Democratic Party has been challenging the program in federal court, arguing people who do not have immunity to COVID-19 can be harmed by going to a polling site.
Chad Dunn, who is representing plaintiffs in the case, said the Texas' program violates the 26th Amendment by discriminating against younger voters.
Dunn said many other states have opened up their vote-by-mail programs to allow more voters to safely cast a ballot from home.
“Unfortunately Texas is an outlier,” Dunn said in a video conference Tuesday.
State officials, particularly Texas Attorney Ken Paton, have argued it is up to the Legislature to change the program. He has also argued, without evidence, that expanding the mail-in voting will lead to election fraud.
Dunn said that argument has routinely been used to suppress voters. He said years of studies and research have shown voter fraud is rare.
“It’s the boogeyman on the table that is never found,” he said.
Brenda Li Garcia, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said she is worried about voting in person because she has asthmatic family members who could be severely harmed if she picks up COVID-19 at a polling site.
In-person voting provides the perfect situation for transmission of the disease, she said.
“Why should a younger person have to choose between health, safety and exercising their right to vote?" Garcia said. “Especially during this pandemic, why should we be penalized for being under age 65?”
College Democrats at UT Austin have also joined the lawsuit.
Dunn said the U.S. Supreme Court could quickly intervene and lift a lower court order that stops the state from expanding the program for now.
Dunn said the party sued Texas officials in federal court shortly after Wisconsin’s primary election in April because a late U.S. Supreme Court ruling caused confusion and chaos during that vote. He said plaintiffs in the case want to make sure this gets settled to avoid confusion at the polls.
“The Supreme Court should step in now,” he said.
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