- Erik (HASH) Hersman via Flickr creative commons
"Today’s decision marks another ugly chapter in Texas’ long history of voter suppression. Above all else, we must be able to run free, fair and safe elections in Texas," said H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, a nonpartisan group that works to register young voters. "To block common-sense solutions that maintain our electoral system during a pandemic is democratic malpractice."
In the ruling, the state's high court agreed with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that lack of immunity to the coronavirus does not qualify as a disability and therefore allow someone under the age of 65 to obtain a mail-in ballot.
The case is one of several arguing that the Lone Star State should be required to expand its absentee voting rules — some of the most restrictive in the nation — during a time when crowded polls increase the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Rulings on federal court cases seeking to expand the state's vote-by-mail rules are expected in coming days.
"There is no reason why the benefit of no-excuse vote by mail should be restricted to voters aged 65 and up, when it's all voters who deserve access to safe voting practices," Progress Texas Executive Director Ed Espinoza said in an emailed statement. "Now is the time to do everything we can to prepare to run safe, secure, and fair elections in July and November."
Texas' Republican leadership has long opposed measures that would make it easier for people to register to vote and cast ballots, claiming such expansions would lead to fraud. Despite its popularity as a conservative talking point, research shows U.S. voter fraud is exceedingly rare.
"Protecting the safety and security of our elections is critically important, but Attorney General Paxton would rather side with partisan conspiracy theorists than fulfill his obligation to protect the health of our democracy and the health of Texas voters," MOVE Texas' Galloway said.
Paxton's state court victory comes as a federal district judge in Corpus Christi ruled Texas must shell out $6.8 million in legal fees and costs in its lengthy, but ultimately successful, fight to maintain its restrictive voter ID law.
In a Wednesday order, federal District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said the state must make that payout to parties who sued over rules Texas implemented nearly 10 years ago to limit the types of identification accepted at polls.
A spokesperson for Paxton's office told the Texas Tribune that the state will appeal.
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