Absentee Voting Expanded, Unemployment Claims Down Slightly

This week in Texas politics with The Texas Tribune.

By Terri Langford April 17, 2020 3:28 pm,

It’s time for the week that was in Texas politics with Alex Samuelspolitical reporter for The Texas Tribune.

This week, a state district judge in Travis County announced he is clearing the way for more Texans to cast a mail-in ballot because of the coronavirus outbreak. Texas has one of the most restrictive absentee ballot systems in the country. Currently, absentee voting is limited to older and disabled Texans or those who can prove they will not be in their county on Election Day.

But state District Judge Tim Sulak in Travis County ruled on Wednesday that Texans could qualify as disabled as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Texas law defines a disability as a “sickness or physical condition” that keeps a voter from voting in person with the risk of “injuring” his or her health. He took the action in a lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party and two voters under the age of 65. But Sulak’s temporary injunction in the case is the first of what many see will be a long-running battle before the November general election.

“[Texas Attorney General] Ken Paxton said just before the decision was issued that an individual’s fear of contracting the virus is not enough to meet the definition of a disability that’s needed to qualify for a mail ballot,” Samuels told Texas Standard on Friday.

In other news, so far more than 1 million Texans have filed for unemployment insurance. But there was a little good news.

“For the first time since [Gov. Greg] Abbott declared the new coronavirus pandemic a public health disaster, the number of Texans who filed for unemployment relief last week declined from the previous week, but only slightly,” Samuels said.

First-quarter political fundraising numbers are in, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn led his two Democratic challengers, M.J. Hegar and state Sen. Royce West. In the quarter that ended March 31, Cornyn raised $2.7 million. Hegar outpaced West, $1.6 million to a little more than $400,000. The runoff election between Hegar and West is set for July 14, with early voting beginning on July 6.

“The coronavirus really upended the last part of this first quarter and affected their ability to make money,” Samuels said.

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