A plan to send ballot-by-mail applications to every registered voter in Harris County was placed on hold Wednesday, when the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins from doing so, according to a report by the Texas Tribune.
The ruling by the state’s highest court followed a lawsuit filed Monday by the State of Texas. In the suit, which names Hollins as the defendant, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claims the interim county clerk does not have the legal authority to send mail-in ballot applications to voters who do not request them.
Hollins said in a Tuesday tweet that his office would wait for the courts to weigh in before proceeding with the plan, which calls for mailing applications to more than 2 million voters regardless of whether they are eligible to vote by mail. In order to cast a mail-in ballot, according to state law, voters must be at least 65 years old, disabled or ill, out of their home county during the election or incarcerated but otherwise eligible to vote.
The county clerk’s plan drew the support of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, two fellow Democrats. Hidalgo said in her own tweet earlier this week that the mailed applications would be accompanied by information detailing who is eligible to vote by mail in the general election scheduled for Nov. 3.
“There is nothing wrong or fraudulent with that or with people exercising their right to vote,” Turner said Tuesday on Twitter. “In fact, voting is good regardless of who you vote for.”
In the lawsuit filed by Paxton, a Republican, it is alleged that sending ballot-by-mail applications to all registered voters will “confuse voters” and “lead many voters to believe they are allowed to vote by mail, when they do not qualify.” The lawsuit asserts that county clerks such as Hollins are permitted by state law to send mail-in ballot applications to those who request them, but not to those who do not.
The legal feud between the state and its most populous county is the latest development in an ongoing argument about whether mail-in voting should be expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Texas Supreme Court previously ruled that fear of contracting the new coronavirus could not be the only reason a voter claims a disability on a ballot-by-mail application, but that it could be a factor in voters’ overall determination about their health.
Hollins has said his office does not have the authority to verify the disabilities claimed by ballot-by-mail applicants, essentially leaving the matter up to individual voters.
Lazybrook resident Hector Castellanos said he supports the expansion of mail-in voting – which is more commonplace in many other U.S. states – on account of the pandemic.
“I think it should be offered as an option. There are a lot of people that won’t be able to get out to the polls,” he said. “Everyone should have an equal right to vote. They shouldn’t be punished if physically they can’t make it to a poll.”
Another area resident, Sarah Reavis, said she does not support voting by mail because the United States Postal Service is “not reliable.”
Samuel Lewis, who also lives in the area, said he will not try to vote by mail because of his dislike and distrust of President Donald Trump, who is up for re-election in November and set to face former Vice President Joe Biden.
“That ain’t nothing but a bunch of tricks,” Lewis said of voting by mail. “Donald Trump is a trickster, and I don’t like him.”
Castellanos said mail-in voting could be impacted by delays with the postal service or fraud, adding, “There’s always going to be a way to try to exploit something.” He said those risks can be minimized by planning and coming up with safeguards.
He also said Texas could follow the examples of other states if it wants to expand voting by mail.
In the meantime, a state district court is expected to soon decide whether counties in Texas can send applications to vote by mail without specifically being asked for them. For the November election, the deadline to request a ballot by mail is Oct. 23, which is when the application must be received.
“The pandemic has put everything into just all kinds of unknowns,” Castellanos said. “I don’t see there being a problem with trying it out, given that it’s an option – not the only option, but an option to vote.”