AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Supreme Court has ruled against expanding mail-in voting in Texas during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ruling, issued Thursday, May 27, also denies the state's petition for a writ of mandamus compelling county clerk offices to follow the election code.
The ruling comes after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a petition to the Court to order local officials to follow Texas election laws regarding mail-in ballots. Paxton's petition was in response to a ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth Judicial District, which had reinstated a Travis County District Court order allowing anyone in Travis County to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those in support of the voting by mail order argue that anyone with a fear of contracting COVID-19 should be allowed to claim a “disability” and vote by mail, something the Texas Supreme Court did not agree with.
"We agree with the State that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a “disability” as defined by the Election Code," says the Court's opinion. "But the State acknowledges that election officials have no responsibility to question or investigate a ballot application that is valid on its face."
According to the Texas Supreme Court, the decision to apply to vote by mail based on a disability is the voter's and because they are confident election officials will comply with the election code in good faith, they denied Paxton's petition for the order.
Paxton applauded the ruling and issued a statement on it, saying:
“I applaud the Texas Supreme Court for ruling that certain election officials’ definition of ‘disability’ does not trump that of the Legislature, which has determined that widespread mail-in balloting carries unacceptable risks of corruption and fraud,” said Paxton. “Election officials have a duty to reject mail-in ballot applications from voters who are not entitled to vote by mail. In-person voting is the surest way to maintain the integrity of our elections, prevent voter fraud and guarantee that every voter is who they claim to be.”
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In the statement, he says that "disability," as it's used in the Texas Election Code, must involve sickness or a physical condition that prevents a voter from voting in person on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.
A voter who becomes ill with COVID-19 and meets those requirements may apply, but "fear of contracting COVID-19, however, is a normal emotional reaction to the current pandemic and does not amount to an actual disability that qualifies a voter to receive a ballot by mail," says the statement.
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