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Mail-In Ballot Battle Rages On In Texas Amid COVID-19 Concerns

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The coronavirus pandemic has many Texans worried about voting in person in the state's mid-July primary runoff election. Mail-in voting could be a gamechanger, especially in a public health crisis -- why is it so controversial? What are the pros and cons of expanding access to absentee voting?

According to the Texas Election Code, voting by mail is an option for individuals with a disability or illness, aged 65 or older, in jail but eligible, or who will be out of the country during the election.

Voting-rights advocates seeking to expand eligibility for mail-in ballots say voters should not have to risk their health to participate in the democratic process. A lawsuit filed over the issue wants Texas to allow anyone worried about contracting the virus to vote-by-mail under the disability clause.

In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said “a reasonable fear of contracting the virus is a normal emotional reaction to the current pandemic and does not, by itself, amount to a 'sickness,' much less the type of sickness that qualifies a voter to receive a ballot by mail under Election Code section 82.002.”

How can officials ensure voters' safety at the polls? Are drive-through voting centers an option for Bexar County? How will social distancing protocols be maintained for in-person voting? 

Does Texas have the infrastructure to expand mail-in voting? What are the logistical challenges? What's a reasonable timeline to develop and implement a robust absentee ballot system? Is voter fraud a real or manufactured concern?

How will decisions about mail-in-voting affect voters in Texas' primary runoff and November general elections? What happens next in the fight over absentee voting amid the ongoing pandemic? 

Guests:

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call  833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org  or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Monday, May 11.

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Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.