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Group Asks Court To Stop Attorney General Ken Paxton's Threats Over Mail-In Voting

A Travis County district judge ruled last month that people afraid of voting in person because of COVID-19 can apply for a mail-in ballot under the disabled category.
Julia Reihs
A Travis County district judge ruled last month that people afraid of voting in person because of COVID-19 can apply for a mail-in ballot under the disabled category.

The Texas Civil Rights Project has asked a court to order state officials not to interfere with a previous court order that opened up mail-in voting in the state.

In their filing Tuesday with the Third Court of Appeals, the group filed a motion as an intervenor accusing the state of thrusting voters and local election officials into “legal limbo” by contradicting an earlier ruling.

Last month, a Travis County district court judge ruled voters worried about contracting COVID-19 could use mail-in ballots during elections in July and November.

The Texas Democratic Party had suedstate and local election officials in March in an effort to get a district court to clarify state law on mail-in ballots.

​Texas has one of the strictest vote-by-mail programs in the country. Only people over 65, people who are in jail and not convicted, people who will be out of the county, and people who are sick or disabled can get a mail-in ballot.

The court ruled that under the law, voters can avoid physical harm by applying for ballot by mail under the disability category.

But state officials disagree.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Ken Paxton accused local election officials of “misleading the public about their ability to vote by mail."

“Fear of contracting COVID-19, however, is a normal emotional reaction to the current pandemic and does not amount to an actual disability that qualifies a voter to receive a ballot by mail,” Paxton said in a statement last week. ““My office will continue to defend the integrity of Texas’s election laws.”  

In its filing, the Texas Democratic Party said the court needs to step in to ensure counties and voters do not fear applying for and processing vote-by-mail applications.

“The State has taken the extraordinary action of publicly disregarding an order from a coequal branch of the government, asserting that its view of the Texas Election Code, which was rejected by the trial court, is law of the land and threatening those who follow the trial court’s interpretation with prosecution,” lawyers wrote in their motion. “This includes calling into question the validity of the injunction within Travis County and intimidating Travis County voters.”

Correction: A previous version of this story said the plaintiff in this case, which is the Texas Democratic Party, filed the motion — instead of the intervenor.

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at alopez@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio .

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Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016.
Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.