Texas Supreme Court Halts Applications for Mail-In Ballots in Harris County (Again)


A legal back and forth is underway in Texas, as the state’s Supreme Court has halted mail-in ballot applications from being sent out in Harris County.

According to the Texas Tribune, the all-Republican court granted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request to halt the effort before a separate order blocking applications from being sent out expired. The court ordered Harris County to refrain from sending out applications, “until further order,” while the case moves through the appeals process. Harris County is home to 4.7 million residents, with 20 percent being Black and 43 percent being Latinx.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins initially planned to send out applications to all registered voters after a state district judge ruled Friday the county could move forward with the plan. Paxton argued Hollins didn’t have the authority to do this and that doing so would confuse potential voters. Paxton initially filed an appeal with the state’s 14th Court of Appeals but after they denied his request to block the ruling he sent the case up to the state’s Supreme Court.

A previous ruling by the state Supreme Court put a temporary pause on mail-in ballots as part of an agreement between Harris County and Paxton’s office to hold on sending the ballots until five days after a ruling by a state judge. That ruling was set to expire on Tuesday.

From the Texas Tribune:

In a statement Tuesday, Paxton celebrated the Supreme Court’s order and reiterated his claim that Hollins “knowingly chose to violate Texas election law and undermine election security” — an argument the state district court rejected. On Twitter, Hollins said his was ready to send the applications and accompanying guidance on who qualifies to vote by mail “at the conclusion of this baseless litigation.”

Harris County has faced intense criticism from Texas Republicans since announcing it would mail out the applications to every registered voter, going well beyond its initiative from the July primary runoffs when it sent applications to every registered voter in the county who is 65 and older. Under Texas law, those voters automatically qualify for a ballot they can fill out at home and mail-in or drop off at their county elections office.

Texas is one of many states currently trying to decide how voting will be handled in the pandemic. Republican leadership in the state has, obviously, fought against any expansion to the state’s mail-in voting system. The state currently allows mail-in voting for anyone 65 and older as well as those who will be out of county during the election, in jail but eligible to vote, and those who have an illness or disability that makes going to the polls a risk.

Lack of immunity to a virus that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands, apparently, doesn’t count as risk.

While the ruling hampers the county’s ability to send mail-in ballots to the majority of voters, the county has been proactive in getting ballots out to voters who are 65 and older. 

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