Court Rebuffs Texas Democrats’ Effort to Expand Mail-in Ballots

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A federal appeals court said Texas can limit access to mail-in ballots for the November election, even after some residents argued that forcing them to cast ballots in person during a pandemic put them at risk of getting sick.

Texas officials had argued that only disabled, absentee or senior-citizen voters were entitled to use mail-in ballots, not able-bodied younger people. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed on Thursday, saying the limits don’t amount to age discrimination.

The state’s Democratic Party had argued that no resident should have to risk getting sick from Covid-19 by having to go to the polls. The case is likely to spur a request for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the matter.

All but a handful of states have allowed mail-in ballots without an excuse during the pandemic, and Texas is a key battleground. President Donald Trump has repeatedly warned -- without evidence -- that expanded use of mail ballots will lead to widespread fraud, uncertain election results and defeat for Republican candidates.

“We will continue to protect the integrity of Texas elections and uphold the rule of law,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an e-mailed statement.

Door Open

The legal fight before the New Orleans appeals court focused on an amendment in the U.S. Constitution that specifies nothing shall “deny or abridge” the voting rights of citizens aged 18 and older.

State officials insist there is no right to vote by mail. The state’s Republican leaders said lawmakers are entitled to assist voters who need special help without risking widespread election fraud through universal mail-in ballots.

Voting activists argue that if a state offers mail-in ballots to voters 65 and older, it can’t refuse them for others. And during a pandemic, requiring younger voters to cast ballots at crowded polling places just makes voting more dangerous. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Texas has soared since July.

The judges left the door open for a challenge the mail-ballot restrictions on different constitutional grounds, that they violate equal protection guarantees. In returning the case to the San Antonio judge for further consideration, the panel stressed that Texas’s Supreme Court said voters can decide for themselves if their underlying health conditions make voting at the polls during the pandemic dangerous for them. These voters may qualify for disability mail-in ballots under this consideration, the judges underscored, and Texas law forbids county election officials from investigating whether a voter has incorrectly claimed disability when requesting a mail-in ballot.

The case is Texas Democratic Party vs. Greg Abbott, 20-50407, U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (New Orleans).

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