District Judge Tim Sulak, in a decision in Travis County on Friday, issued a temporary injunction that relaxes the definition of “disability” in the Texas mail-in vote provision, making it applicable to all voters registrants who fear for their health when casting ballots in person for the upcoming state elections.
The Texas Election Code defines “disability” as “an illness or physical condition that prevents the voter from going to the polling station on polling day without the risk of needing personal assistance or harm voter health ”. Voters who meet this definition and wish to vote by mail must submit their candidacy.
Sulak admitted on Wednesday at a court hearing that he expects an appeal from the public prosecutor’s office, which has issued indications that fear of Covid-19 cannot be considered a disability .
“Furthermore, the evidence shows that voters and these claimants … are reasonable that voting in person while the virus causing Covid-19 is still in danger poses a risk to their health, and all voters without immunity established respect the common language definition of the handicap thus giving them the right to a ballot by post “, read the ordinance.
In late March, Governor Greg Abbott postponed dozens of statewide election runoffs for party nominations for congressional and local seats from May 26 until July 14. The new date coincided with a competitive special election for a seat in the Texas State Senate. . In issuing the delay, Abbott did not weigh on the opportunity to expand access to postal voting.
On Friday, in a separate decision, Sulak also aligned the early voting dates for the special elections and the second round from July 6 to 10.
The Texas Democratic Party, the original plaintiff in the case, rushed to declare victory after leaving court on Wednesday in anticipation of the court ruling in their favor. The group argued that Covid-19 posed a significant threat to the health of voters if they were forced to vote in person.
“We cannot allow this public health crisis to be the death of our democracy when it takes so many of our loved ones,” said Texas Democratic Party president Gilberto Hinojosa in a press release.
“Our state is better when more Texans participate in our democracy. Voting by mail is safe, secure and accessible. It allows more voters to participate in our democracy, and it is a sensible way to conduct an election, especially during a period of public health crisis, “added Hinojosa.
In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement on Wednesday evening expressed disappointment, saying in part that the district court had ignored the plain text of the state’s electoral code in order to allow voters in good standing health to take advantage of the special protections made available to Texans with illnesses or disabilities.
“This illegal expansion of postal voting will only serve to undermine the security and integrity of our elections and to facilitate fraud. … My office will continue to defend Texas election laws to ensure that our elections are fair and that our democratic process is legally upheld, “said Paxton, a Republican, in the release.
The Texas State Attorney’s Office, in response to the court ruling, filed a notice of appeal Friday evening.