For years, those over 65 years of age were among the few voters in Texas who could legally ask for a mail-in ballot. Seniors along with disabled Texas voters, are among the limited categories allowed to cast a ballot by mail.
And if this were any other election year, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir would see about 1,000 requests for mail-in-ballots.
But as voting rights groups try to open up that right to all Texas voters, health concerns about the coronavirus have resulted in a huge surge in requests for mail-in ballots, DeBeauvoir has had to hire a new contractor and pay for more staff to process the requests and print up more mail-in ballots.
“We are already at 16,000,” she said of mail-in ballot requests so far for the November election. Most of those, she said, are from those over the age of 65 who are taking advantage of the current law.
Earlier this week it seemed that mail-in voting would be opened up to all Texas voters because of the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio granted a preliminary injunction clearing the way. His ruling covered Texas voters “who seek to vote by mail to avoid transmission of the virus.”
But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the decision and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans sided with him, issuing a temporary halt to the lower court’s ruling. That is sending the issue on a path to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Also this week, the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments on whether Texans could claim fear of contracting the coronavirus as a disability, and therefore stake a claim on a mail-in ballot.
DeBeauvoir told the Standard that election officials have no way to verify a voter’s disability before issuing them a mail-in ballot. And she doesn’t see any court decision that would require election officials to do so.
“I can’t imagine what court opinion we would get that puts me in the position of measuring or evaluating a person’s level of disability,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a possibility. I’m trying to remain very flexible so whatever the court decides, we will be prepared to follow that.”