The Texas Democratic Party on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to expand vote-by-mail access amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the current state election rules, only voters who meet relatively narrow criteria can mail in ballots, meaning the vast majority of the state’s voting would occur in person, despite public health guidance to avoid public gatherings.
“As our city and county leaders issue shelter-in-place orders and our residents are urged to stay inside, we must protect Texans’ ability to cast a ballot without jeopardizing their health or safety,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa.
The state is scheduled to hold a primary runoff on July 14. The runoff was first scheduled for May 26 but was pushed back by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas).
Texas officials issued election guidance earlier this month that sought to clarify voting and election procedures in light of the virus that has infected some 8,400 and killed 160 in the state.
But Texas Democrats say the advisory memorandum fell short of offering “concrete guidance to county election officials on whether voters can cast a mail-in ballot during the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Democrats’ lawsuit seeks to expand eligibility for mail-in voting, which under current law requires voters to apply for an absentee ballot and provide a “qualifying reason.” Those include advanced age, disability, incarceration or planned travel, but the suit seeks to have social-distancing policies recognized as a valid justification.
In a similar suit filed in Texas state court, the Democrats asked for social distancing to be interpreted as a qualifying disability.
“Plaintiffs contend that participating in social distancing, to prevent known or unknown spread of what Governor Abbott has described as an ‘invisible disease’ is a ‘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 lawsuit states.
Updated at 4:10 p.m.