A back-and-forth legal battle over expanding mail ballot eligibility during the coronavirus pandemic is continuing in the Texas court system, tossing an unknown element into the upcoming elections.
In the Lone Star State, voting by mail is traditionally limited to ages 65 or older, those with a disability or illness, residents who will be out of the county during an election or who are confined in jail.
In response to a suit filed by the Texas Democratic Party and several individuals and nonprofits, a state district judge in April issued a temporary injunction allowing voters requesting a mail ballot to cite lack of immunity to COVID-19 as a disability or illness. Challenged by Attorney General Ken Paxton, the order was upheld by a state appeals court May 7 and then temporarily overruled May 15 by the Texas Supreme Court, a decision that blocks the expansion of mail ballots while appeal of the case moves forward. Meanwhile, a July runoff and November election are edging closer.
At the local level, County Elections Administrator Todd Stallings says if it turns out the expanded mail ballot eligibility doesn’t happen, and the virus remains a threat, his office is exploring ideas to expand curbside voting.
“I’ve been able to learn a lot of new ideas watching what other states are doing who are still having primaries right now,” he says.
Curbside ballot pickup will be available during early voting regardless.
“Just call me during early voting and we’ll come outside to your car for curbside voting if you don’t want to walk into the building,” Stallings says.
If voting by mail is expanded, he says his office ready for that, too.
“There’s a machine at the courthouse that can stuff envelopes faster than you can blink,” he says, “so sending out a greater amount of mail ballots is achievable.”
For those who want to vote by mail, at least for now, Stallings recommends only checking “disability” on the application if one’s disability can be defined in the traditional sense.
“What worries me about people signing forms today who would not normally be qualified to vote by mail is that there could be another court ruling soon that flips things in the opposite direction,” he says.