In Texas, Absentee Ballot Rules Are This Year’s Voting Rights Battleground

During a pandemic, Democrats and activists say all Texans should be able to vote by mail, but Attorney General Ken Paxton is strongly opposed to that.

By Alexandra HartMay 12, 2020 12:49 pm, ,

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Texas has been trying to accommodate voters who’ve been at home under lockdown by delaying runoff elections and increasing early voting opportunities. But for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, making voting by mail more accessible is a step too far.

Paxton has advised election officials that fear of contracting COVID-19 does not entitle voters to cast mail-in ballots. He has said that those who encourage others to apply for a mail-in ballot may be criminally prosecuted.

But now, Paxton himself is being accused in court of committing an election crime by providing an intentionally misleading statement to election officials.  

Charles “Rocky” Rhodes is a law professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston. He told Texas Standard host David Brown that Paxton and vote-by-mail advocates offer different interpretations of the state law that governs mail-in ballot rules.

“Both sides are essentially accusing the other of essentially engaging in criminal, fraudulent activities by stating the other’s position,” Rhodes said.

In a new lawsuit, filed Tuesday, plaintiffs challenged the rules that govern how mail-in ballots must be prepared and sent to election officials.

“They’re saying, in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, those activities that are required with respect to the ballot are dangerous and violate due process rights,” Rhodes said.

The Texas Democratic Party, League of Women Voters and American Civil Liberties Union are all engaged in legal challenges to Texas’ restrictive vote-by-mail rules. Rhodes said those groups have argued, in part, that visiting a polling place to cast a ballot puts a voter at risk of contracting COVID-19, which could amount to a disability. And under current Texas law, people with disabilities are allowed to obtain mail-in ballots. Most other Texans are not.

“The position of the Texas Democratic Party is that everybody should be entitled to mail-in ballots, which of course is the position that’s being strongly opposed by Ken Paxton,” Rhodes said.

Paxton’s office has said that decisions about voting for the November election shouldn’t be made now, since the election is still several months away.

Web story by Shelly Brisbin.


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