Texas Supreme Court halts expansion of mail-in voting during pandemic

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday halted the expansion of mail-in voting in the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

The court issued the stay after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) asked the Lone Star State's top court to take action in a letter earlier this week.

The state Supreme Court has set oral arguments in the case for Wednesday.

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Democrats and voting rights advocates have pushed for mail-in voting to be expanded during the pandemic, while Paxton has repeatedly argued that large-scale mail-in voting will lead to rampant voter fraud and corruption.

"Among the State’s highest and most profound interests is protecting the integrity of its elections," Paxton wrote Wednesday. "To advance that interest, the Texas Legislature requires almost every voter to vote by personal appearance at a designated polling place, where trained poll workers confirm the voter’s identity before issuing him a ballot."

On Thursday, the 14th Court of Appeals of Texas upheld a previous ruling by a Texas state judge that deemed mail-in voting acceptable during the pandemic.

The Texas Supreme Court has not weighed in on the merits of the case, but its decision Friday means the initial ruling will be blocked until an appeal for that case moves forward.

Paxton praised the court in a statement after its decision.

"Protecting the integrity of elections is one of my most important and sacred obligations. The Legislature has carefully limited who may and may not vote by mail," Paxton said. "The Travis County trial court’s decision to allow everyone to vote by mail is contrary to state law and will be reversed on appeal. I am pleased that today the Texas Supreme Court confirmed that my office may continue to prosecute voter fraud and issue guidance on mail-in ballots while that appeal plays out."

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The Texas Democratic Party’s general counsel, Chad Dunn, had celebrated the earlier ruling this week while calling "for a few state officers to stop trying to force people to expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to vote."

What had been an initial victory for Texas Democrats has now turned into a waiting game.

"This is a dark day for our democracy. The Republican Texas Supreme Court is wrong to force the people of Texas to choose between their health and their right to vote. They would have Texans die, just so they can hold on to power," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said.

He added, "Voters should have the ability to vote-by-mail during a pandemic if they feel their health is in danger. Every single justice who ruled today should be ashamed of themselves. They are the new Republican death panel."