Nice try, Texas Democrats. On Friday a state district judge in Texas denied a request from Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins to allow thousands of voters to vote online in the July primary run-off elections. The unusual request was made due to an increase in recent coronavirus cases.
Hollins is a Democrat. The 33-year old attorney has only been in the office since being sworn in on June 1. Harris County has never used online voting and isn’t set up for it now. In 2014 online voting was permitted in North Texas due to an outbreak of Ebola, the only example of online voting in Texas. The excuse being given by Hollins for online voting in Harris County is that thousands of new COVID-19 cases leave voters in quarantine and unable to come to the polls to vote on Tuesday. An emergency telephone hearing was heard by Judge Larry Weiman, also a Democrat. Weiman sided with the objections presented by the Harris County Republican Party.
Judge Weiman said that Hollins failed to show any injured party – he had “not produced an example of a voter being disenfranchised by exposure to coronavirus.” He shared the concerns of the county GOP about security issues with online voting. We aren’t talking about a few voters here, either. Hollins wanted to allow up to 10,000 voters to vote online in the run-off elections. Then, once that happened, Hollins intended to do the same for the November election. The primary elections would have given Democrats a foot in the door for instituting online voting in Texas.
Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, a Democrat, argued that the choice is either those in quarantine break their quarantine to show up at the polls to vote, thus exposing poll workers and other voters to the virus or voters who have tested positive lose their ability to vote.
“Sick voters, those who have COVID, or have been exposed to COVID, certainly fall into the category of people whose right to vote we need to protect,” Hollins said.
So, it is refreshing to see a Democrat judge side with common sense and the Republicans in this case. Democrats don’t get to change Election Code when a mail-in ballot option is available.
The Harris County Republican Party and Texas Attorney General’s office argued against the plan. Assistant Attorney General Anne Mackin said Hollins’ proposal amounted to a “rewrite of the Texas Election Code,” which already provides ill voters a method to vote by mail after missing the application deadline, so long as they are able to physically produce a doctor’s note.
Hollins sought to have that requirement waived in favor of an emailed statement certifying a voter has been exposed to COVID, saying infected residents or members of their household risk infecting county employees by delivering a form to a public building.
“It’s inappropriate to substitute a new process,” Mackin said.
Some email voting is allowed for members of the military stationed overseas but it is done with secure email addresses that allow election administrators to verify the identity of the voter. Judge Weiman said if the Election Code is to be changed, that is a job for the state legislature.
Judge Weiman has been busy lately. On Friday he denied the Republican Party of Texas’ request for a temporary restraining order after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the GOP state convention cannot proceed.
After a contentious two-hour hearing, Weiman said he was concerned about Houston hospitals reporting they have exceeded their regular intensive-care capacity, as coronavirus cases and deaths have surged in the state. The arrival next week of as many as 6,000 delegates from across Texas could worsen the situation, he noted.
Attorneys for state Republicans indicated they plan to file an appeal.
State Republicans claim it is a move made out of political gamesmanship by Mayor Turner, a partisan Democrat who supports Joe Biden. The Republican state chairman said that all the precautions were in place for the convention that mitigates the virus – hand sanitizer, face masks, social distancing. In other words, state Republicans jumped through all the hoops set by the city and yet the mayor still came in and shut it down. And, there is the sheer hypocrisy of Mayor Turner welcoming with open arms the public protests of the BLM movement and the huge memorial to George Floyd in Houston, too.
The group’s lawsuit filed earlier Thursday accused Turner of discriminating against the convention due to an “ideological viewpoint.” A second lawsuit filed by a group of Republicans accused Turner of bowing to “COVID-19 hysteria.”
Both lawsuits accuse Turner of imposing tougher standards on the convention than he did on a June 2 protest following the death of George Floyd, a Houston native. Tens of thousands of people, including Turner, attended the protest.
Mayor Turner did as he usually does – tried to play good cop after acting like a bad cop to the state GOP. He says he didn’t want to be the bad guy and shut it down, but, you know, he had to do it.
Speaking Wednesday, Turner said he directed city lawyers to terminate the contract because he believed the event could not be held safely.
“No one wanted to step in and be the heavy and to say no, and then run the risk of being accused of being political,” Turner said. “But if after all of that, you still refuse to recognize the public health danger to everyone involved, then I am still the mayor.”
Malarkey. It’s all about the November election. Even to those of us who are not on board for the in-person convention at this time, the mayor doth protest too much. And, Judge Weiman ruled in his favor. The Democrats are doing as they always do – never let a crisis go to waste.