Virus concerns lead to lawsuit to expand mail-in voting in Texas

State of Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Texas Democratic Party is suing the state to expand who can vote by mail. Party leaders say mail-in voting is a way to protect Texans from potential health risks if an election happened during a health emergency, similar to what the state faces now with COVID-19.

Texas Democrats point to what happened last week in Wisconsin, where the state held its election despite the health risks to people voting in person.

“Whatever your political preferences are, you can’t have been happy with a situation where people were out standing in line, touching voting equipment exposed to one another in this time of pandemic, just to secure the right to vote,” said Chad Dunn, General Counsel for the Texas Democratic Party.

Texas currently restricts who is eligible to vote by mail in Texas. To qualify for a mail-in ballot, a voter must be age 65 or older or be disabled. People who will be away from their home county for early voting and election day can also get a mail-in ballot. The state also allows eligible voters who are confined in jail to vote by mail.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to give any eligible voter the option to vote by mail if they believe they need to do so to protect themselves or others from the coronavirus.

Governor Greg Abbott has said he’s not in favor of efforts to expand vote by mail eligibility. “I think that people have a legal right to vote in person, and we need to try to conduct elections consistent with that,” Abbott said when asked about the lawsuit.

The Governor previously ordered to move elections scheduled for May to July. He called that a “superior strategy” to making more Texans eligible to vote by mail. Abbott said that he hopes that by July conditions will improve enough to allow people to safely vote in person.

“There’s no question there are people who will still need and have available to them in-person voting,” Dunn said. He emphasized that the lawsuit is about giving more Texans the option to vote by mail. Dunn believes that option is necessary amid the uncertainty brought by the pandemic.

“It’s a lot like the ventilator situation. We’ve got to flatten the curve,” Dunn said. “In-person voting is going to need to see the demand for it lowered.”

Dunn said that until a treatment or a vaccine is available, it’s possible for a new outbreak to require health emergency restrictions similar to what Texas is going through now. He said the state needs to prepare now to keep elections from being disrupted later this year.

“Voting in November is going to happen one way or the other. We can have Wisconsin, or we can have a reasonable process where everybody gets a say,” Dunn said. “The only way to do that is vote by mail.”

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