All Texans Can Vote By Mail During Virus Crisis, U.S. Judge Says

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(Bloomberg) -- Texas must give any voter afraid of catching Covid-19 at the polls a mail-in ballot for as long as the pandemic threat continues, a federal judge ruled.

The U.S. judge’s ruling conflicts with the Texas Supreme Court’s temporary suspension of a state judge’s order to do the same thing, while the Texas high court examines the issue further.

Texas’s top officials, all Republicans, are fighting expansion of mail-in ballots to voters under 65 who don’t qualify as “disabled” under the state’s definition. They claim mail ballots are prone to voter fraud and insist election officials will implement sufficient social-distancing policies to make it safe to vote in person this year.

“The Grim Reaper’s specter of pandemic disease and death is far more serious than an unsupported fear of voter fraud,” U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio said in a preliminary ruling. He said Texas offered no explanation why older healthy voters can vote by mail while younger ones can’t, which leads to unequal protection of their constitutional rights.

Biery also called the Texas attorney general’s threat to prosecute voters who request, and election officials who provide, mail ballots outside of state guidelines “at best duplicitous and at worst hypocritical” in light of the politician’s previous guidance on who qualifies.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to immediately appeal.

“Citizens should have the option to choose voting by letter carrier versus voting with disease carriers,” Biery said. His order will remain in effect until pandemic circumstances subside or state courts resolve the matter so that his order is no longer necessary.

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