Texas Democrats Lose Bid to Expand Early Voting Before Runoff

Voting in Texas won't be the easy this year.
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Voting in Texas won't be the easy this year.
Unless you fall into one of a handful of categories that would allow you to cast a ballot by mail, you'll need to show up in person if you want to vote in next month's runoff election, coronavirus or not.

That's the takeaway from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to deny a request from the Texas Democratic Party to allow the state to expand mail-in voting while its lawsuit against the state is on appeal. Had the court granted the request, any voter in Texas could have cast a ballot by mail in next month's runoff elections, citing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at polling places.

Texas law allows only those age 65 and older, physically unable to vote in person or those planning to be out of the county for all of early voting and on Election Day to vote by mail.

In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded the court "for following the law and refusing to order mail-in balloting that the Texas Legislature has forbidden."

"Universal mail-in ballots, which are notoriously vulnerable to fraud, would only lead to greater election fraud and disenfranchise lawful voters,” Paxton said. “State election officials have many options available to safely and securely hold elections without risking widespread fraud. My office will continue to fight for safe, free and fair elections.”

Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement that Democrats are disappointed the court didn't weigh in before the July runoffs.

"Now, thanks to Republican Governor Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the all-Republican membership of the Texas Supreme Court, only some voters will be permitted to vote by mail during this primary election," he said.

Hinojosa noted that the case is proceeding in other filings before the U.S. Supreme Court and the 5th U.S.  Circuit Court of Appeals, meaning it's possible courts will decide before the November election that the state must allow universal voting by mail.

Democrats argue that the state's age restrictions for voting by mail violate the 26th Amendment's prohibition against age discrimination in voting regulations. In the court's only comment, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the case "raises weighty but seemingly novel questions regarding the Twenty-Sixth Amendment."

"I do not disagree with the decision to refrain from addressing them for the first time here, in the context of an emergency application to vacate a stay of an injunction," Sotomayor wrote. "But I hope that the Court of Appeals will consider the merits of the legal issues in this case well in advance of the November election."