On Friday, the Republican-dominated Texas Supreme Court put a pause on a lower court’s ruling that would have immediately expanded access to mail-in voting across the state, instead scheduling oral arguments to consider the issue itself for Wednesday.
The legal battle over expanded mail-in voting comes as the coronavirus pandemic is still raging across the country. So far, there have been more than 86,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States. In Texas, more than 45,000 cases have been reported and 1,272 people have died. This spring, as health officials urged people to practice social distancing and avoid large crowds, many states delayed primaries elections and expanded access to mail-in voting to avoid polling place crowding on election day.
At issue in Texas is a lower court’s ruling that vulnerability to contracting the coronavirus qualifies as a disability under Texas voting laws providing access to absentee voting. Republican Attorney General Bill Paxton has argued the opposite, saying that voters deterred from voting are afraid—not disabled.
The country has already seen what can happen if elections are allowed to proceed as normal. After the April 7 primary in Wisconsin, at least seven cases were linked to voting. But still, Paxton celebrated the ruling with a statement encouraging the high court to leave the state’s restrictive mail-in ballot access alone: “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.”
Texas elects justices to its highest court in statewide partisan elections. All of its current nine members are Republicans. Despite that, Texas Democrats vowed to fight on. “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,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “They would have Texans die, just so they can hold on to power.”