Appeals Court Backs Up Mail-in Voting, Fight Continues

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With federal, state and local elections set for November, Texans are already looking to make sure they’re able to vote, even in a pandemic. Casting their ballots by mail seems to be a safe way to participate, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says voting by mail could lead to fraud.

This week, a state appeals court backed up a lower court ruling that will allow people concerned about being exposed COVID-19 to cast their ballots by mail.

Texas election code allows people who are 65 or older, disabled, out of their county during the voting period or in jail to early vote by mail. Disabled is defined as voters who cannot vote without assistance or who would injure their health by voting.

In April, 353rd District Judge Tim Sulak issued a temporary ruling in Travis County. The ruling defines disabled to include all registered voters who fear for their health due to COVID-19.

Voters can request a mail-in ballot

Under Sulak’s ruling, Texas voters can request mail-in ballots by citing the disability qualification allowed in the Texas election code. Voters must submit an application in advance to receive a mail-in ballot.

On Thursday, the 14th Court of Appeals of Texas upheld Sulak’s order, despite Paxton’s efforts to put the ruling on hold. The ruling says susceptibility to COVID-19 can be counted as a disability under the state election code.

“Each misapplication of Texas election law damages the integrity of our elections and increases the risk of voter fraud,” Paxton said in a statement.

Federal and state courts are considering legal challenges to the state’s rules for voting by mail.

“Eligible voters can vote by mail during this pandemic,” Chad Dunn, the Texas Democratic Party’s general counsel, said in a statement Thursday. “It is time for a few state officers to stop trying to force people to expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to vote.”

However, AG Paxton is looking to the Texas Supreme Court to resolve the matter.

Today, Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court to immediately stay an order by the Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth Judicial District, which reinstated a Travis County District Court order allowing anyone in Travis County to vote by mail using special protections intended to aid only those with true disabilities or sicknesses. The Fourteenth Court correctly concluded that the trial court’s order was superseded, but it incorrectly allowed the order to go into effect anyway. Attorney General Paxton also filed a petition asking the Texas Supreme Court to uphold the State’s automatic right, guaranteed by the Legislature, to stay temporary injunctions from lower courts upon filing an appeal.