The battle continues in Harris County, Texas (Houston) over the Democrat county clerk’s plan to send an application for mail-in ballots to every registered voter. Tuesday the Texas Supreme Court put a halt to it, at least for now. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requested the court weigh in before another order stopping the massive mail-out to 2.4 million registered voters expires. That order expires today.
Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins is new to his office, having been sworn-in on June 1. At that time, he pledged to hold the job only in an interim role, avoiding the potential distraction of running a campaign during the November election. The 33-year-old Democrat hit the ground running and began making a mark on the mail-in ballot application process. During the July primary, he mailed applications for mail-in ballots to all registered voters age 65 and older. These voters normally qualify for mail-in voting in Texas. Now, for the presidential election in November, his grand scheme is to mail applications to every registered voter.
The Republican Party of Texas and conservative activists opposed Hollins’ plan since he announced his intentions. The legal battles have been ongoing ever since. Just five days ago I wrote about the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against a lower court’s preliminary ruling that would have required the State of Texas to expand mail-in voting to all eligible registered voters. That lawsuit was brought about by the Texas Democrats and they claimed it was age discrimination to deny all voters the opportunity to vote by mail-in ballot. In Texas, specific requirements must be met to qualify for a mail-in ballot. These requirements are that the eligible registered voter must be age 65 or older, out of the county during the voting period, disabled or ill and unable to vote in person, or incarcerated but still eligible to vote.
Attorney General Paxton, a Republican, argues that a mass mailing will confuse voters and create voter fraud. People who don’t qualify will think that because a public official sent the application, that official is acknowledging the voter qualifies. A legal battle is even being waged over a voter’s ability to claim he or she is not able to vote in person due to a fear of the coronavirus. That fear is enough to qualify for a disability, according to Democrats. Ultimately it is the voter who determines a personal illness or disability, which creates a gray area in election law.
Both sides of the mail-in ballot application argument have won victories in court and lost, too. Hollins has already mailed applications to voters age 65 and older. He was barred from sending applications to all other registered voters until 11:59 p.m. tonight (Wednesday). This was an agreement between the state and county offices. A state district judge rejected Paxton’s argument of potential confusion and voter fraud Friday, and Paxton swiftly appealed to Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals. That court decided against Paxton’s request to block the mail-outs and instead, sped up the trial by ordering Paxton and Hollins to submit arguments by Wednesday afternoon. That is when Paxton quickly went to the Texas Supreme Court.
Paxton, who noted that the appeals court “offered no assurance” it would issue a ruling by then, argued in a court filing Tuesday afternoon that the Texas Supreme Court should issue a writ of mandamus or injunction to prevent Hollins from sending out applications once the clock strikes midnight Thursday morning. The court granted Paxton’s request, ordering Hollins not to send unsolicited applications “until further order of this court.
The state Supreme Court already had blocked Hollins from mailing out applications to voters under 65 through a similar lawsuit filed by the Harris County Republican Party and conservative activist Steven Hotze. However, Paxton noted, the court’s stay order will expire before the state and county agreement is up Wednesday evening.
Confused? You are not alone. The back and forth, from court to court, and more than one lawsuit considered at a time is hard to keep up with even for those of us actively trying to keep current. In May, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that fear of the virus alone does not qualify as a disability but could be one of several factors a voter may consider.
“We agree, of course, that a voter can take into consideration aspects of his health and his health history that are physical conditions in deciding whether, under the circumstances, to apply to vote by mail because of disability,” the court said in it’s May ruling.
So, for now, the Democrat in the County Clerk’s office is not allowed to pursue his fever dream of converting Harris County into a county that completely votes by mail. The county has never been set-up for that and there is no indication that it is now. There are measures in place that will allow voters to show up at polling places and vote in person safely. Early voting has been extended for this election so that crowds are not so large on Election Day. If people can go to the grocery store or shop at Walmart, they can go and vote in person as they normally do. Meanwhile, the battle continues as the early voting period on October 13.