A Texas judge handed a victory to Democrats in the controversy over voting by mail.
Any voter who is afraid to catch the coronavirus will be considered “disabled” under an expected temporary order by state judge Tim Sulak, setting the stage for all Texans to be able to vote by mail in upcoming elections, the Hill reported. Republicans in Texas and President Donald Trump oppose expanded mail-in voting, which they say could lead to rampant fraud.
Texas judge rules to expand voting by mail
In places like Wisconsin, where Democrats lost a court battle to stop in-person voting in recent elections (but won a key race anyway), Democrats are suing to expand voting by mail, arguing that a failure to do so is dangerous, in light of COVID-19, and potentially a form of disenfranchisement. Another theater of conflict has opened in Texas, where the state’s Democratic party sued election officials to “clarify” the election code’s definition of “disability” for mail-in voting.
Texas requires voters to be older than 65, in jail, sick or disabled, or out of the county during election time to vote by mail. But a Travis County judge, Tim Sulak, handed Democrats a temporary victory Wednesday by interpreting the term “disabled” in the state’s election code to mean anyone with a fear of contracting the virus – in other words, potentially everyone.
The state’s Democrats declared the decision a victory for democracy, but Texas is expected to challenge it. “Today is a victory for all Texans,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “The right to vote is central to our democracy.”
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, who battled Planned Parenthood over a coronavirus-related abortion ban, and Texas Republicans will likely appeal the ban. Paxton said that a fear of catching the virus does not count as a “disability,” and he even threatened to prosecute those advising voters to seek absentee ballots out of fear of the virus, the Texas Tribune reported.
“Mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are legitimately ill and cannot vote in-person without needing assistance or jeopardizing their health,” Paxton said in a statement Wednesday. “Fear of contracting COVID-19 does not amount to a sickness or physical condition as required by state law.”
Will it hold?
If the ruling stays, then all 16 million voters in Texas could acquire absentee ballots for primary runoffs in July and the general election in November. President Donald Trump has argued that voting by mail has the potential for abuse and that the practice tends to work to the advantage of Democrats. Republicans in Texas echoed those concerns, vowing to oppose the push by state Democrats.
“We will continue to vigorously oppose any intent by the Democrats to expose voters to increased error and fraud,” said James Dickey, chairman of the Texas GOP.
The controversy is, in one sense, an extension of familiar debates over elections. Republicans generally argue that in-person voting, with identification, is essential to eliminating voter fraud, while Democrats tend to think of such requirements as undemocratic.
At the same time, there are signs that Democrats may be getting the better of the argument this time. Despite Trump’s criticism, some Republican governors in states like Maryland, Ohio, and Georgia have already expanded mail-in voting options.
The controversy over voting comes as a wider political conflict takes shape over when and how to reopen the economy. Many governors, and especially Democrats, say it’s too soon, but President Trump is eager to end draconian lockdowns that have caused a financial crisis. He plans to lay out guidelines for opening the economy on Thursday.