Texas voters afraid of coronavirus can cast mail-in ballots, federal judge rules

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said that the coronavirus pandemic had left the world “without immunity and fearfully disabled.”
Image: Texas Vote
A voter walks to the poll to cast their ballot during the presidential primary in Houston, Texas on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020.Mark Felix / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Tim Stelloh

Texas voters afraid of contracting the coronavirus can cast their ballots by mail in upcoming elections, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

In a 74-page decision, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery wrote that the coronavirus pandemic had left the world “without immunity and fearfully disabled.”

The decision came after the Texas Democratic Party and individual voters filed a suit last month arguing that the state’s denial of mail-in ballots during a pandemic was a violation of their constitutional rights.

Only people over the age of 65 and those with a disability that prevents them from voting in person are allowed to cast mail-in ballots in the state.

Echoing a false claim made by President Donald Trump last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, also a Republican, has argued that expanding mail voting would only “serve to facilitate fraud.”

“Mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are legitimately ill and cannot vote in person without needing assistance or jeopardizing their health,” Paxton said after a district court ruling last month. “Fear of contracting COVID-19 does not amount to a sickness or physical condition as required by state law.”

But Biery rejected Paxton’s arguments, writing that the state raised the “specter” of widespread voter fraud but offered little evidence that such crimes are happening in states that allow more mail-in voting.

“The court finds the Grim Reaper’s scepter of pandemic of disease and death is far more serious than an unsupported fear of voter fraud,” he wrote.

Any eligible voter who wants to vote by mail to avoid contracting coronavirus can apply for a ballot in upcoming elections, Biery wrote.

Paxton said in a statement Tuesday that Biery’s decision “ignores the evidence and disregards well-established law.” His office plans to seek immediate review by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The decision comes amid a political battle over vote-by-mail during the pandemic. Democrats have largely supported expanding access to mail-in voting, with lawmakers urging party leaders to make it a priority. House Democrats included a provision in the latest coronavirus relief bill that would offer every American that option to vote by mail in the 2020 presidential contest.

Trump, who has voted by mail himself, said the bill was “DOA.”

“If you look at the bill that Nancy Pelosi is putting in, it has a lot to do with elections. We're not going to lose elections because of that," he said.