Ponder this: Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton is using time, personnel and energy, paid for by your tax dollars, to make it tougher for many of you to vote more safely during a pandemic.
Texas voting law says you can vote by mail only if you are over 65, have a disability, are in jail (but not yet convicted), or will be out of your county during early voting and on election day.
Paxton says fear of catching the virus by voting in person doesn't qualify as a disability for someone under 65 to vote by mail. Even as other government officials have been pushing people to stay home as much as possible and stay at least 6 feet apart and wear a mask when in public to avoid helping the extremely contagious COVID-19 coronavirus to spread, Paxton disagrees.
He thinks unless you are probably sick, you have to vote in person – not by mail. Being worried about your health or the dangerous germs you may bring home to others from voting in person is not his concern.
As it escalated – or degenerated – into a see-saw legal battle in both state and federal courts, Paxton has relentlessly insisted he is right.
Some judges say Paxton's attitude amounts to cruel and unusual punishment just to exercise your right to vote. Some judges have agreed with him.
Here's the sequence of the ping-ponging court dealings:
March 20 – State – Texas Democrats and others file suit in state district court in Austin to allow people under 65 to get mail-in ballots due to fear of the virus. Paxton opposed that suit.
April 7 – Federal – Democrats also file in federal court in San Antonio, before Judge Fred Biery – the day after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower-court ruling that said Wisconsin mail-in votes would count for a week after election day. Paxton opposed the Texas Democrats' suit.
April 15 – State – Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak, a Democrat, agreed with Democrats that fear of the virus counted as a disability to allow mail-in voting. On April 17, Sulak issued an injunction against blocking the under-65 mail-in voting. Paxton appealed, and contended his appeal put Sulak's ruling on hold until the appeals process was concluded.
May 13 – State – Paxton, even before the Texas 14rh Court of Appeals had issued its opinion on his appeal, asks the Texas Supreme Court to take up the case.
May 14 – State – A three-judge panel of the 14th Court of Appeals voted 2-1, along party lines, to uphold Sulak's order that virus fear qualified as a disability. The 14th Court also blocked Paxton's effort to put a hold on the mail-in voting process continuing while the case goes through the court process. Paxton's spokesperson said his office will "look forward to the Texas Supreme Court resolving this issue."
May 15 – State – The Supreme Court put a temporary hold on the 14th Court's ruling while it considered the case's merits.
May 19 – Federal – Biery grants a preliminary injunction, saying Texans who want to vote by mail for fear of coronavirus should be able to. “Citizens should have the option to choose voting by letter carrier versus voting with disease carriers,” Biery wrote in his order. We the People get just about the government and political leaders we deserve, but deserve to have a safe and unfettered vote to say what we get."
May 20 – Federal – A three-judge panel of the U. S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals blocks Biery's injunction.
May 27 – State – The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court unanimously upheld Paxton's contention that "a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a ‘disability’ as defined by the Election Code." Ironically, the nine-member court was meeting remotely, rather than in person, for fear of the virus. In fact, one justice – Debra Lehrmann – had been self-quarantined because of exposure to the virus. The court, however, also said that it's up to voters to decide whether they consider fear of the virus a disability. If they check that box on their application for a mail-in ballot, local election officials can't question it and must send them a ballot.
June 4 – Federal – The 5th Circuit extended its block on Biery's injunction to keep the state from blocking mail-in voting for fear of the virus.
June 9 – State – The Texas Democratic Party and other plaintiffs asked the 14th Court of Appeals to drop their suit against the state, apparently to clear the way for the federal appeals process.
The case may go to the U.S. Supreme Court, but probably not until after the July 14 party primary runoffs, plus a special election to replace former state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.