GOP-Controlled Texas Supreme Court Sides with Paxton in Vote-By-Mail Case
But local elections officials can't reject voters who check "disability" on their application.
The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court ruled on May 27 that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is not considered a “disability” under the state’s qualifications for voting by mail. The court, however, also wrote that it’s up to voters themselves to determine if they qualify as defined by the state’s election code.
“We agree, of course, that a voter can take into consideration aspects of his health and his health history that are physical conditions in deciding whether, under the circumstances, to apply to vote by mail because of disability,” the court ruled.
Texas Election Code defines “disability” to include “a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on Election Day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.” (Texas Election Code § 82.002)
As the Texas Tribune reports, “The high court also rejected Paxton’s request to prevent local election officials from sending mail-in ballots to voters who were citing lack of immunity to the coronavirus as a disability. Those officials denied they were operating outside the law and argued they cannot deny ballots to voters who cite a disability — even if their reasoning is tied to susceptibility to the coronavirus.
“When voters cite disability to request an absentee ballot, they’re not required to say what the disability is. The voters simply check a box on the application form, and if their application is properly filled out, local officials are supposed to send them a ballot. The state ultimately conceded that officials can’t reject those voters.”
Another case is pending in a federal court, and the issue will likely end up before the U.S. Supreme Court since Republicans are determined to suppress voting rights during the pandemic.
In the meantime, Texas Election Code implies that voters who believe that their health could be injured by appearing at the polling place can apply for a ballot by mail. Health privacy is protected by HIPAA, and elections administrators cannot ask about a voter’s disability.
Voters can get the application form for a ballot by mail from their county’s election office website or at https://www.texasdemocrats.org/my-texas-votes-2/vote-by-mail/.
Follow these instructions:
1. If you previously did not qualify for a ballot by mail but you think that voting in person will injure your health, check “Disability” in box 5 but do not write anything else in that box. Do not list your disability, COVID-19, coronavirus or anything else; doing so could cause your application to be rejected. Simply check the “Disability” box.
2. In box 6a, check “Annual Application” so that you will automatically get mail-in ballots for the rest of 2020. You must also check “Democratic Primary” and “Any Resulting Runoff” to vote in the July 14 runoff election.
3. Be sure to sign your application in box 10.
4. Mail your application to the Early Voting Clerk at the address on the form.