Texas voters decide whether their health concerns make them eligible for mail-in voting. That’s Texas law. In fact, the Texas Supreme Court recently acknowledged voters decide this question for themselves without second-guessing by state officials.
But Texas has become a partisan battleground state, where election laws are rarely settled. Case in point: Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins to stop Hollins from being a helpful public servant. Hollins wants to send vote-by-mail applications to 2.4 million registered Harris County voters, Republican and Democratic alike.
Paxton — dedicated as always to asserting state control over Texans — wants to thwart local leaders’ effort to increase voter turnout. After being served with Paxton’s lawsuit, Hollins dutifully agreed to partially suspend his mailing pending the courts’ consideration of the merits of Paxton’s challenge. The deadline to apply for ballot by mail (received, not postmarked) is Oct. 23.
Why would any official, constitutionally elected to serve all Texans, want to stop the simple delivery of a vote-by-mail application to its intended recipient? Paxton says he’s acting urgently to prevent fraud. Of course, there’s nothing fraudulent about asking the postman to deliver an application to a registered voter.
These applications are intended for legally registered voters and are being mailed to that voter’s address. The process is no different than mailing a tax statement or juror summons.
Here’s what’s really happening: Paxton and his elite political donors fear a large number of Harris County voters will vote by mail, the eligibility decision for which he’s not allowed to second guess, so he seeks to reduce the number of individuals who even get to decide.
Despite what he claims, Paxton isn’t concerned about fraud. He’s using the courts to stifle a large Democratic voter turnout. Paxton’s legal challenge will disenfranchise Republican voters as well, but since a majority of Harris County voters support Democratic candidates that’s a loss he can tolerate.
That is outrageous. This pandemic has affected everything in life, and everyone is adapting. Restaurateurs and grocers have responded by offering delivery and curbside options, making it safer to purchase meals and groceries; retailers offer special hours for at-risk customers; even bars have been given the flexibility to provide customers with to-go cocktails. Now local government proposes an easier and safer vote-by-mail plan, but Paxton won’t allow that because he’s a partisan.
Delivering vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter to increase voter turnout is good, efficient government. The vote-by-mail application and the ballot itself include clear instructions based on Texas law, so Harris County voters can choose how best to vote. That’s a safe, non-partisan way of meeting voters where they live.
If Harris County Commissioners Court wishes to allocate funds for printing and mailing applications to increase voter turnout — spending less than Paxton has for his five years and counting criminal defense — they should be applauded, not sued.