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Texas Supreme Court rules major county can't mail ballot applications to all voters

The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that its most populous county cannot mail ballot applications to all registered voters.

The all-Republican Supreme Court said the elections administrator of Harris County, which includes Houston, cannot go through with a plan to mail ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county, the Texas Tribune reported.

The justices ruled against County Clerk Chris Hollins’s efforts to expand voting options during the coronavirus pandemic, saying that sending applications by mail would overstep his authority.

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“We conclude that the Election Code does not authorize the mailing proposed by the Harris County Clerk,” the court wrote in an opinion obtained by the Tribune.

The state Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court in the county to place an injunction on Hollins, preventing him from sending out the applications.

The lower courts, with Democratic judges, sided with Hollins before the case went to the state Supreme Court.

Harris County has already mailed applications to voters at least 65 years old and sent applications to those who requested them. If the court had approved his plans, the county would have sent out about 1.7 million more applications, according to the Tribune. 

The legal battle began when state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) sued Hollins to prevent him from mailing the applications, arguing he was overstepping his power and that the move would confuse voters who are not eligible to vote absentee in Texas. Hollins asserted that the application made clear who could obtain an absentee ballot.

Texas law restricts absentee voting to individuals 65 or older, people out of the country, voters with a disability and incarcerated individuals. Previous legal battles determined that the risk of contracting coronavirus by voting in person does not qualify as a disability.

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Before issuing its ruling, the state Supreme Court justices expressed skepticism about mailing out the applications, asking whether it would lead to voter fraud. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Pa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report MORE has promoted unfounded claims that mail-in voting opens up elections to fraud.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa responded to the Supreme Court decision by accusing the Republican justices of deciding “against the interests of voters and a functioning democracy.”

“The Republican Texas Supreme Court, along with the Governor and other Republicans, continues to micromanage the lives of local Texans,” he said in a statement. “Republicans will bend the ‘law’ any which way to serve their purpose: maintain power for Republicans no longer supported by a majority of the state.”

Hinojosa called for “the biggest Democratic movement in Texas” in November and pointed out that four of the justices are up for reelection. 

“We’re not only in a fight to save our state, but our entire democracy,” he said.