Texas Attorney General Sues County to Stop Mailing of Ballot Applications

Harris County election clerk Nora Martinez, left, helps a voter in Houston on June 29, 2020. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON (CN) — Texas’ Republican attorney general on Monday sued the county clerk in Houston, a Democratic stronghold, seeking an order to stop him from mailing absentee ballot applications to the county’s 2.37 million registered voters regardless of whether they qualify.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins refused to back down after Texas Elections Director Keith Ingram warned him Thursday he had until noon Monday to call off his plan to send the applications to all registered voters.

Texas has strict rules on absentee voting. Only people over 65, those in jail, people out of the county and the disabled qualify and the Texas Supreme Court clarified earlier this year that fear of contracting Covid-19 at a polling site does not meet the criteria.

“An official application from your office will lead many voters to believe they are allowed to vote by mail, when they do not qualify,” Ingram told Hollins in a letter Thursday.

Ingram also said eligible mail voters could be disenfranchised if the mass application mailing delays them getting their ballot in on time to be counted.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made good on Ingram’s threats Monday, suing Hollins in Harris County District Court.

According to the lawsuit, in the 2016 presidential election only around 100,000 voters in Harris County, the state’s largest by population, voted by mail, which makes sense because only 10.9% of its 4.7 million residents are over age 65 and 6.5% of people younger than 65 are disabled.

“In addition, the number of voters eligible but confined [in jail] or absent from the county on election day is necessarily limited,” the complaint states.

Paxton claims Hollins’ plan is an invitation for fraud as people who have died, been disqualified by being convicted of a felony or moved out of the county could be mailed applications.

“At best, applications sent to these individuals will simply go unused. More

likely, these excess applications will become ripe material for voter fraud,” the lawsuit states.

Hollins, a Democrat, told local media last week his office will include detailed eligibility guidance with the applications and let voters decide for themselves if they qualify.

Upon taking office in June as head of elections in the country’s third-most populous county, Hollins said he would ensure polling sites are evenly distributed throughout the county.

His predecessor Diane Trautman, who resigned in May for health reasons, was blamed for a flawed plan for the March primary in which some Democrats waited up to five hours to cast their ballots while machines designated for Republicans sat unused. 

Texas’ Republican leaders are in lockstep with President Donald Trump in their opposition to mail-in voting. Though Trump himself votes by mail, he claims fraudsters could throw the election if absentee voting is expanded.

The Texas Democratic Party unsuccessfully sued Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughes earlier this year, seeking to expand absentee-voting eligibility to all registered voters due to concerns the coronavirus would keep people away from the polls.

They said Paxton’s lawsuit is another attempt to stop Texans from voting.

“Republicans will stop at nothing to stop Texans from exercising their right to vote. If Texas Republicans could, the eligibility for vote by mail would be: are you voting for Donald Trump?” Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said in an email.

Though Texas has not voted for a Democrat in a statewide race since the 1990s and no Democratic presidential candidate has carried the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976, the major cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin are majority Democrat.

Hillary Clinton beat Trump by more than 160,000 votes in Harris County in the 2016 election, and the latest polls have Democratic presidential nominee Biden and Trump in a dead heat in Texas leading up to November’s election.

Paxton agreed late Monday not to seek a temporary restraining order. The case will go straight to a temporary injunction hearing and the parties will pick a hearing date by Sept. 9.

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