Texas Supreme Court rules Harris County Clerk cannot send all registered voters mail-in ballot applications

Texas

(KXAN photo/Frank Martinez)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) – The Supreme Court of Texas ruled that Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins cannot send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters in his county Wednesday.

The court’s opinion stated in part, “we hold that the Election Code does not authorize an early-voting clerk to send an application to vote by mail to a voter who has not requested one and that a clerk’s doing so results in irreparable injury to the State.”

The court stated that only a small portion of Harris County’s population would qualify to actually be granted a mail-in ballot.

The court heard arguments last week from the Attorney General’s office and Hollins’ attorney.

An attorney with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office argued that Hollins does not have the authority to send an application out unless a voter has specifically requested one. Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins said many of the statutes presented in this case involve the word “request.”

“In 1.010B, we once again see that word request, it’s been the law for decades that we read statutes holistically, in accordance with the company that they keep. And we see in that sense that 1.010 is tied in with 84.012 and 84.013. They all hinge on the idea of request,” Hawkins said last week.

But Hollins’ attorney, Susan Hays, argued that the Texas election code does give the clerks power to, “manage and conduct,” elections.

That’s especially important during the pandemic, as elections administrators work to reduce the number of voters at polling locations and decrease wait times.

“By increasing the ratio of voters who vote by mail you decrease the bodies that come into the polling place,” Hays said last week.

The court ultimately sided with the state.

Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement the Texas Supreme Court “continues to micromanage the lives of local Texans.”

Abhi Rhaman, also with the TDP, called the decision a move by the all-Republican court to control local entities.

“Texas is built on local control. And the fact of the matter is that Republicans will stop at nothing to stop people from voting. And to make sure that people in this predominantly Democratic counties don’t have their opportunity to have their voices heard,” Rahman said.

The high court also ruled that a lawsuit challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s extension of early voting proclamation is not fit for immediate relief and allows early voting to start Oct. 13, six days earlier than originally planned.

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