Decision 2020: Battle over expanding vote by mail in Texas during coronavirus pandemic

HOUSTON – There's a big legal fight underway over whether voting by mail in Texas should be expanded.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says no, but the Texas Democratic Party and several voting rights groups say yes. On Tuesday, a federal court judge ruled against the state. Here's a breakdown of where both sides stand.

What is the current law on mail-in ballots?

Right now, you must be 65 or older, have a disability, or be out of town on election day to qualify for a mail-in-ballot.

What is the state’s legal argument against expanding vote by mail?

Attorney General Ken Paxton said he is simply enforcing the law as decided upon by the state legislature.

“The law is pretty clear it doesn’t allow for people to get mail-in ballots for fear of contracting Corona, or anything else,” Paxton said in an interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC Wednesday.

Paxton also claims expanding mail-in balloting will lead to voter fraud.

In a sharp rebuke of that argument, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery said the state had provided “little or no evidence” of widespread fraud in states where voting by mail is widely used.

"The court finds the Grim Reapers scepter of pandemic disease and death is far more serious than an unsupported fear of voter fraud," Biery went on to say in his ruling issued Tuesday.

What are the legal arguments for expanding vote by mail in texas?

The Texas Democratic Party and other voting rights and civil rights groups, like the Texas Civil Rights Project, are suing the state, arguing that the current eligibility requirements for mail-in ballots should be dropped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We think that people shouldn’t have to choose between voting or living and that there’s a system in place that allows people to vote by mail in order to avoid exposing themselves to this very dangerous and deadly virus,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

What’s next?

Paxton has already appealed the federal judge’s order and filed a motion for an emergency stay.

A similar case was brought before the Texas Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon. A ruling, in that case, is expected to come very soon.

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