The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Thursday afternoon, effectively eliminating the possibility that Texas would expand access to mail-in voting prior to the state's primary runoffs on July 14.
The court's ruling leaves Texas' mail-in voting as is for the duration of Paxton's appeal of a previous federal district court ruling. That ruling would've given access to a mail-in ballot to any Texan who fears that voting in person would endanger his or her health.
Texas law only allows mail-in voting to those who are older than 65, physically disabled, ill or who will be out of the county in which they are registered to vote for the duration of early voting and election day access.
"In an order that will be remembered more for audacity than legal reasoning, the district judge intervenes just weeks before an election, entering a sweeping preliminary injunction that requires state officials, inter alia, to distribute mail-in ballots to any eligible voter who wants one. But because the spread of the Virus has not given 'unelected federal jud[ges]' a roving commission to rewrite state election codes, we stay the preliminary injunction pending appeal," the court wrote in its opinion.
Paxton said after the ruling that the court helped ensure the integrity of Texas' elections.
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“I applaud the Fifth Circuit for staying the federal court’s erroneous decision and preventing widespread mail-in balloting while the case proceeds. Allowing universal mail-in ballots, which are particularly vulnerable to fraud, would only lead to greater election fraud and disenfranchise lawful voters,” Paxton said. “The unanimous Fifth Circuit ruling puts a stop to this blatant violation of Texas law.”
Texas Democrats, as they have throughout the fight for greater access to remote voting, accused Texas' leadership of trying to exploit the COVID-19 crisis.
"We are living through an unprecedented pandemic and Texans are still reeling from this health and economic crisis. Republicans, from President Trump to Attorney General Ken Paxton, are trying to use this pandemic for political gain," U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia said. "The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. In the middle of this life threatening pandemic, we should be working to keep people safe and give voters the peace of mind that they can safely exercise their right to vote."
The next step for the state officials and voting rights advocates battling it out over the case is likely a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to figures on both sides of the fight.