Vote-by-mail is back on for all Texans who want it after a U.S. District Court Judge ruled Tuesday night that fear of the coronavirus is reason enough to ask for an absentee ballot. The Texas Attorney General's Office and plaintiffs including the Texas Democratic Party have gone back and forth for weeks, with Attorney General Ken Paxton asserting that merely not wanting to catch COVID-19 does not amount to a disability.
"One's right to vote should not be elusively based on the whims of nature. Citizens should have the option to choose voting by letter carrier versus voting with disease carriers. 'We the People' get just about the government and political leaders we deserve, but deserve to have a safe and unfettered vote to say what we get," U.S. District Judge Fred Biery wrote in his opinion granting a preliminary injunction.
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A state district court, a state appeals court and a U.S. District Court have all now ruled in favor of the voting rights and political organizations seeking to expand access to mail-in ballots. The Texas Supreme Court sided with Paxton Friday on a procedural issue, ruling that access to mail-in ballots should not be expanded as he appeals the state rulings.
"Today is a victory for all Texans. 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 Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “The Texas Legislature provided for these circumstances by statute allowing voters to vote by mail when they have a physical condition that makes it dangerous for them to do so. That’s why we fought in court on behalf of voters."
According to Bob Garrett, The Dallas Morning News' Austin bureau chief, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said after the ruling that he anticipates the case will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court "fairly quickly."
Texas' next election is July 14, when the state's Republican and Democratic parties will hold their primary runoffs.