Wednesday's twist in Texas' coronavirus-inspired battle over mail-in voting was Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's attempt to enlist the Texas Supreme Court's help to stop counties that want to expand ballot access. In Thursday's skirmish, a state appeals court affirmed that, during the pandemic, Texas voters at risk for contracting the virus can legally cite a disability in order to get an at-home ballot.
The appeals court ruling follows an initial decision last month from a lower court stating that the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state, including the Texas Democratic Party, were likely to prevail in their claim that fears of contracting the coronavirus while voting in person amounted to a disability under Texas law.
Paxton appealed the decision, claiming, as he has repeatedly, that only physical ailments amount to a disability for the purposes of voting.
“The integrity of our election process must be maintained, and the law established by our Legislature must be followed consistently. Unlawful expansion of mail-in voting, which is a special protection made available to Texans with actual disabilities, will only serve to undermine the security of our elections and to facilitate fraud,” Paxton said on May 11. “Fear of contracting COVID-19 does not amount to a sickness or physical condition as required by state law. My office will continue to defend Texas’s election laws to ensure that our elections remain free, fair and safe.”
Thursday's appeals court decision affirms that the lower court ruling remains in effect.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case thanked the appeals court for pushing back against the attorney general.
“The Court of Appeals has recognized the need to allow efforts to ensure Texans have the ability to vote by mail during this pandemic to proceed while the full appeal is heard," Tommy Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement after the ruling. "We appreciate the court of appeals’ realization that the Attorney General’s attempts to override judicial decisions are improper, and directly impact voters who are trying to participate in our democracy without having to risk their health. Texans should not have to choose between their health and safety and the ability to exercise their right to vote.”
Dallas County Commissioners voted this month to support mail-in voting for all who want during the COVID-19 pandemic.