Texas Democrats ask U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on voting by mail

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Mail-in ballot application. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

After a series of losses in state and federal courts, Texas Democrats are looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to expand voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Texas Democratic Party on Tuesday said it asked the high court to immediately lift the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' block on a sweeping ruling that would allow all Texas voters who are seeking to avoid becoming infecting at in-person polling places to instead vote by mail.

The fight to expand who can qualify for a ballot they can fill at home and mail in has been on a trajectory toward the Supreme Court since Texas Democrats, civil rights groups and individual voters first challenged the state's rules months ago when the new coronavirus reached Texas. Under existing law, mail-in ballots are available only if voters are 65 or older, cite a disability or illness, will be out of the county during the election period or are confined in jail.

Earlier this month, a panel of the 5th Circuit extended its block on a preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Fred Biery ordering that all state voters, regardless of age, qualify for mail-in ballots during the pandemic. Biery agreed with plaintiffs, including the Texas Democratic Party, that voters would face irreparable harm if existing age eligibility rules for voting by mail remain in place for elections held while the coronavirus remains in wide circulation. Under his order, voters under the age of 65 who would ordinarily not qualify for mail-in ballots would now be eligible.

But after Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed that ruling, the 5th Circuit put it on hold, effectively eliminating the possibility that Texas voters would be able to legally request mail-in ballots solely because they fear a lack of immunity to the new coronavirus will put them at risk if they vote in person.

In their appeal, the Democrats are asking the Supreme Court to leave in place Biery's order and take up the case on the claim that the state's age restrictions for voting by mail violate the 26th Amendment's protections against voting restrictions that discriminate based on age.

This is a developing story.