Ken Paxton sues Harris County for trying to deliver mail ballot applications

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins on Monday after the Houston area election chief promised to send more than two million mail ballot applications to voters.

The lawsuit, filed in district court on Monday, is attempting to prevent the mail ballot applications from being delivered via an injunction by a judge. 

Paxton said Hollins’s actions will create confusion, facilitate fraud, and go beyond his authority as county clerk. The attorney general said Hollins was planning on sending applications to voters regardless of whether they qualify to vote by mail. In Texas, only voters 65 or older, those in jail or with a disability can be eligible for a mail ballot. 

“Our lines of communication are open, and I’m happy to meet with the Secretary of State and any other important stakeholders about our plans to share information about voting by mail with all registered voters,” said Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins in a statement to the Signal. “Along with an application, each voter will receive detailed information about who qualifies to vote by mail and who doesn’t. 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.”

Despite Texas’ voting restrictions, there is nothing on the books that prevents voters from considering their health history in their application and claiming a disability out of fear of contracting COVID-19 because of those health complications. Vote-by-mail applications in Texas are remarkably simple — voters need only check a box to claim a disability — and that choice cannot be legally scrutinized or investigated by election officials. 

There is also nothing in Texas Election Code that prevents election officials like Hollins from sending out mail ballot applications, according to an election expert cited by the Houston Chronicle

Harris County began planning to send voters mail ballot applications in April when commissioners court voted to fund the effort with a $12 million investment. 

Siding with Paxton who had been grumbling about the county’s plans since they were announced, the Texas Secretary of State’s office sent a letter to Hollins last week asking him to halt the mail ballot effort, or else face legal action. 

Paxton’s lawsuit comes the same day that arguments to expand vote-by-mail in the state were heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. For the past few months, Texas Democrats have been fighting in court to undo the state’s vote-by-mail age restrictions.

“The 26th Amendment was adopted in 1971 for the purpose of prohibiting denial or abridgment of the right to vote on the basis of age,” Texas Democratic Party General Counsel Chad Dunn said in Monday update. “Today, we simply asked the Court to ensure that Constitutional right in time for this next presidential election, especially as these pandemic circumstances continue.”

Texas is one of six states that has not eased restrictions to allow any voter to use mail ballots. 

Photo: Office of the Texas Attorney General

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