Texas Democrats are gearing up to lick a ton of envelopes. Monday, the Texas Democratic Party announced it would mail more than 815,000 absentee ballot applications in August to eligible voters, such as seniors and people with disabilities.
The move is part of its vote-by-mail program, which aims to send at least 1.75 million applications to Texas Democrats ahead of November’s election. The coronavirus pandemic has made remote voting more necessary than ever before, TDP Executive Director Manny Garcia said in a statement.
“This historic investment in our vote-by-mail program is the next phase of our plan to win the state of Texas,” he said. “We will continue to register new voters, expand the electorate, fight back against all Republican attempts to suppress the vote, and harness the energy and enthusiasm that we’ve seen across the state.”
As with wearing masks, mail-in voting has morphed into a partisan issue. President Donald Trump frequently attacks the process, claiming without evidence that it could lead to widespread election fraud.
Meanwhile, civil rights groups believe that mail-in voting should be mandated for all because of the coronavirus pandemic and the health risk posed by crowding into a polling place.
A majority of Americans seem to support the idea, too. Around two-thirds of Americans, 65%, say that early or absentee voting should be available to everyone, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
To vote by mail in Texas, one must be: 65 years or older, or disabled, confined to jail, or out of the county during early voting and on Election Day. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 23.
Texas is one of eight states that does not accept the fear of contracting the coronavirus as a valid excuse to absentee vote, according to The Washington Post. Others, such as California and Colorado, have opted to mail ballots to registered voters.
A conservative organization called the Honest Elections Project has warned that mail-in voting will lead to a large-scale corruption of the democratic voting process. Although there’s no evidence to support that sentiment, it’s frequently parroted by Trump.
The nonpartisan law and policy institute The Brennan Center asserts that it’s “more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than to commit mail voting fraud.”
In April, the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit in an attempt to secure all Texans the right to vote by mail during the coronavirus public health crisis. The suit asked that the Texas Election Code’s definition of “disability” be extended to include all registered voters. It was denied by the Texas Supreme Court.
Joaquin Gonzalez, a staff attorney for the TCRP’s Voting Rights Program, said that the move would have aided residents living in localities with stay-at-home orders. It also would have aligned with public health officials’ warnings against large gatherings.
“This whole experience has just shown how out-of-date and cumbersome Texas’ voting laws are, that it can’t be flexible to meet basic public health needs during a global pandemic,” Gonzalez said.
Still, some resent the idea that the term “disability” can be so easily co-opted.
Denton disability justice activist Val Vera said that he is against the push for a more widespread vote-by-mail system, wherein anyone who is afraid of the coronavirus can check the disability box.
“It’s basically akin to cultural appropriation,” Vera said. “For that moment, for that time, for that purpose, you consider yourself disabled, so you get the … option of voting by mail because of the pandemic.
“It’s not the same as having a lived experience with a disability,” he continued.
Many people with disabilities are themselves fearful of exposure to the coronavirus since they are considered high risk of developing severe symptoms, Vera said. Both he and his fiancée have comorbidities, so a mail-in option for them is necessary.
Vera said that this November, he will be voting by mail or at the curbside for the first time.
Voters who check that they have a disability on their application do not have to specify what it is. That leaves election officials in the dark as to whether the voter actually has a disability or if they’re just afraid of contracting COVID-19.
A video on the Texas Democratic Party’s webpage emphasizes that point, during which a man says that the term “disability” for this purpose is not a legal term. Rather, he said, it’s up to the voter to decide whether they are too disabled to vote in person.
No one can challenge a person’s disability status, he continued — not Republicans nor the election clerk.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has warned that people who abuse the term could face legal repercussions.
Vera also urges non-disabled people to think twice before checking the disability box.
“I know what their fears are and why it’s being done,” he said, “but at the same time, you’re appropriating an identity you really don’t have.”