Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins to halt the county clerk’s plan to send a mail-in ballot application to every registered voter in Harris County. Harris County has 2.4 million registered voters. Paxton’s claim is that Hollins is exceeding his authority by sending out the applications which would confuse voters and open the door to fraud.
“Election officials have a duty to reject mail-in ballot applications from voters who are not eligible to vote by mail,” Paxton said in a statement. “Unfortunately, instead of protecting the integrity of our democratic process, the Harris County clerk decided to knowingly violate election laws by preparing to send over two million ballot applications to many Texans who do not qualify and have not requested to vote by mail.”
As the lawsuit was being filed on Monday, the Texas Democratic Party argued before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the age requirement to qualify for a mail-in ballot – voters 65 years of age or older – discriminates against the majority of voters. Texas is one of seven states in which all voters are not eligible to vote by mail-in ballot.
Time is growing short, as early voting is only six weeks away in Texas. Hollins and the Harris County Attorney’s Office maintain there is no law against a mass mailing of ballot applications. This is Hollins’ first major election in his position. He has only been in office since June. Hollins plans to include a document explaining which voters qualify for mail ballots with the applications. He blames the secretary of state for jumping the gun and filing a lawsuit instead of talking with him.
“If the secretary of state would take the time to meet with us instead of jumping into court, they would see that the information we plan to share with voters provides clarity about voters’ rights and eligibility to vote by mail,” Hollins said in a statement.
Texans who are younger than 65 can apply for mail ballots if they will be out of their home county or incarcerated during the voting period, or are disabled.
The question of if a voter qualifies for the disability requirement if that voter does not have immunity from COVID-19 has been bantered about for months since Democrats decided it would be a great idea for universal mail-in voting to be put into place. Republicans recognize it for what it is – a scheme to hand the election to Democrats because of the likelihood of voter fraud and ballot harvesting. In May the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a lack of immunity does not qualify as a reason to vote by mail.
Like everything else today, mail-in voting is politicized. Democrats want it to be available to each and every registered voter. Republicans see the increased potential for fraud. Texas Secretary of State’s Elections Director Keith Ingram sent a letter to Hollins saying he would seek Paxton’s help if Harris County did not abandon its plan by noon last Monday. Hollins did not so the lawsuit filed by Paxton was not unexpected.
It argues that the Texas Election Code permits county clerks and election administrators to send mail ballot applications to any voter who requests one, but does not provide explicit permission to send applications to those who made no such request.
Most voters are ineligible for mail ballots, the attorney general asserts, therefore Hollins’s plan to send applications to millions of voters is irresponsible. These unnecessary applications will be unused at best, the suit states, or will become “ripe material for voter fraud.” He also warned the clerk’s office could be overwhelmed by the volume of returned applications and be unable to process them before the voting period begins.
Democrats who are described as election law experts are lining up to support Hollins, also a Democrat.
Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, said last week that nothing in the Texas Election Code prohibits Harris County from mailing applications to whomever the clerk chooses. Harris County Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said the same.
Paxton’s lawsuit suit offers no evidence to bolster the assertion that sending mail ballot applications facilitates fraud, said Rick Hasen, a professor specializing in election law at the UC Irvine School of Law.
“Given that these are only applications, not ballots, there is ample opportunity for the county to protect against sending any fraudulent submissions,” Hasen said. “If that were a means of fraud, then people could send in fraudulent applications even if the county never asked them to do so.”
He added that states that use mail ballots for most or all of their voting, including Republican-controlled Utah, report “very low” rates of fraud.
Harris County Republicans have joined Paxton’s lawsuit, arguing that Hollins is ignoring the court’s June ruling on mail ballots and misreading the Texas Election Code.
“Harris County has a rogue clerk who is abusing the application to vote by mail process and compromising the integrity of elections in Harris County,” the suit states. The other plaintiffs are conservative activist Dr. Steven Hotze, and Sharon Hemphill, a Republican running for judge in the 80th Judicial District Court.
The suit argues that the Election Code states residents must request a mail ballot application, and that absentee voting in Texas is reserved for a small group of voters. Since the code does not specifically permit a county clerk or elections administrator to send mail ballot applications to residents who do not request them, the suit claims this practice is illegal.
Paxton compares mail-in voter fraud to credit card skimmers. Credit card skimmers steal financial information, while “vote harvesters can easily collect ‘authentic’ signatures under false pretenses and steal your vote.” With early voting right around the corner in Texas, I assume the court will make a ruling quickly.