AUSTIN, Texas - A U.S. District Court judge has granted an injunction in the vote-by-mail lawsuit to enable counties to permit the use of absentee ballots due to COVID-19.
Judge Fred Biery granted the Texas Democratic Party's motion for the injunction on May 19. In the order, he wrote, “Americans now seek Life without fear of pandemic, Liberty to choose their leaders in an environment free of disease and the pursuit of Happiness without undue restrictions.”
The lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party named Gov. Greg Abbott, Secretary of State Ruth Hughes, the Travis County Clerk, and the Bexar County Elections Administrator and contends that state law allows any voter to cast a mail-in ballot given the COVID-19 outbreak.
Those in support of the voting by mail order argue that anyone with a fear of contracting COVID-19 should be allowed to claim a “disability” and vote by mail.
“Today is a victory for all Texans," said party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa in a statement. "The right to vote is central to our democracy. This ruling means eligible voters can vote by mail during this pandemic. It is time for a few state officers to stop trying to force people to expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to vote."
Texas Attorney General Paxton issued a statement, saying “The district court’s opinion ignores the evidence and disregards well-established law. We will seek immediate review by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The lawsuit discusses how government-ordered social distancing will "probably be in effect for a number of weeks and, even after it is lifted, will in all likelihood be reimposed at additional intervals." The lawsuit also points out that most voters in Texas vote in person, but that "these very activities are now heavily discouraged by various government orders and are being discouraged in an enormous public education campaign."
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Paxton filed a petition last week with the Texas Supreme Court to order local officials to follow Texas election laws regarding mail-in ballots.
Paxton's petition is in response to a ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth Judicial District, which had reinstated a Travis County District Court order allowing anyone in Travis County to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. The order from the Travis County District Court instituted no-excuse vote-by-mail for the 2020 election cycle.
Paxton said in a press release that the special protections for voting by mail are intended to aid only those with true disabilities or sicknesses.
“Mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are physically ill and cannot vote in-person as a result. Fear of contracting COVID-19 does not amount to a sickness or physical condition as required by the Legislature,” said Paxton. “The integrity of our democratic election process must be maintained, and law established by our Legislature must be followed consistently.”
You can view the full motion here.
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