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Texas Democrats ask US Supreme Court to weigh in on vote-by-mail expansion

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(CNN) – Texas Democrats said Tuesday that they are asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on their push to expand vote-by-mail in the state amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Texas Democratic Party filed the petition in the United States Supreme Court arguing that current Texas election law discriminates against voters under the age of 65, who currently have to provide an excuse -- like being away on Election Day during voting hours, being sick or disabled, or in jail -- when applying for a mail-in ballot. The petition argues such age discrimination is a violation of the 26th Amendment.

Tuesday's filing is the latest movement in an ongoing battle between the state's Democrats and state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, over voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats argue that amid the pandemic, people shouldn't have to choose between their right to vote and their health. Paxton has remained steadfast that expanding access to vote-by-mail could lead to voter fraud.

The petition from Democrats asks that the Supreme Court lift a previous appeals court stay that in early June blocked access to vote-by-mail to voters afraid of being exposed to the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats are also seeking for the court to hear the case in the fall.

"There's no logical reason for those whose 65th birthday is the day after Election Day to have to go to the polling place in person while their 65-year-old spouse can vote (with) a mail ballot -- especially during the worst pandemic in a century," said Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa in a statement on Tuesday.

Democrats have been fighting in state and federal court to get expanded mail-in voting by allowing the state's "disability" election provision to apply to all registered voters under age 65.

Texas' election code defines "disability" as "a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on Election Day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health."

The National Conference of State Legislatures says absentee or mailed ballots in several ways "are as secure or more secure than traditional methods of voting."

Courts in the last month have sided with Paxton in blocking the expansion of vote-by-mail in Texas. In mid-May, the Republican was granted a temporary stay in the case. A week later, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against expanded vote-by-mail access in a separate but similar state case.

"The Fifth Circuit's powerful and well-reasoned opinion correctly found that the State likely would prevail on its argument that Texas's mail-in voting laws comply with the U.S. Constitution," Alejandro Garcia, deputy director of communications for Paxton, said in an email to CNN.

"This is clearly a ploy by the Texas Democratic Party to further confuse Texas voters. This office will continue to defend the integrity of our electoral process," he added.

Democrats have largely pushed for additional access to mail-in voting as Americans are increasingly nervous about going to the polls in person during the pandemic. Republicans, however, including President Donald Trump, have resisted many of those calls, citing fears over voter fraud.

Though a majority of Americans support voting by mail as a socially distanced solution for elections this fall, Trump has doubled down on his penchant for making false claims about voter fraud in the US. Multiple studies have confirmed that there is no widespread voter fraud in this country, and millions of Americans vote-by-mail each year without systemic problems.

At the same time, the state's next election is less than a month away. Texas has a July 14 primary runoff election. The last day to apply for a mail-in ballot is July 2.

“Let’s make no mistake about why we’re back at the Supreme Court again. Texas Republicans are hell-bent on discriminating against and blocking Texas’ new diverse majority from casting their ballot,” said Hinojosa.