Texans continue debate on mail-in ballots before summer runoff elections

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Photo Credit: Valeria Trevino | Daily Texan Staff

Multiple lawsuits were filed this spring in Texas to expand mail-in ballots and increase access for those feeling unsafe going to the polls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Texas Democrats filed a lawsuit on March 20 in Travis County which would allow all Texan voters to vote by mail during the pandemic. The organization filed a second lawsuit on April 7 arguing that not allowing mail-in voting would be unconstitutional in Texas.

On April 17, District Judge Tim Sulak ruled that mail-in voting should be expanded due to the coronavirus. However, this verdict is likely to be appealed by Republican state leaders, according to the Texas Tribune. 

Currently, mail-in ballots are available in Texas for those who have a disability, are over the age of 65, are in jail but otherwise eligible or are out of the county during the voting period, according to the Texas Secretary of State website.

On April 29, another lawsuit was filed in San Antonio by six voters who claimed that restricting the age requirement of mail-in ballots to over 65 goes against the Constitution.

Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project, said there tends to be a partisan split on voting laws. In a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, Blank said the team found Democrats are significantly more prone to think eligible voters are denied access, while Republicans are more prone to believing ineligible voters are casting fraudulent ballots.

“The reality is that most election laws are decided and passed into law by partisans looking to cement advantages that they have,” Blank said. “At no point in time, historically, in the country, has the guiding principle ever been to make sure that everyone has easy access to the ballot.”

Abdullah Adi, the executive director of College Republicans at Texas, said he does not think mail-in ballots should be expanded amid the coronavirus pandemic because of possibilities of voter fraud. He said he is also not sure the state is prepared to handle that amount of mail-in ballots. 

“(Polls should) advance hygiene standards while using the same processes,” economics junior Adi said. “The truth of mail-in voting is that I feel it’s not very efficient, and it’s very hard to implement. There’s a lot of room for fraud.”

University Democrats President Alex Meed said mail-in voting should be implemented, especially during the time of COVID-19 under the disability provision, which currently allows mail-in voting.

“In this situation, (mail-in ballots) makes sure people can actually vote without having to put themselves in danger of getting the virus,” Meed, a public affairs graduate student, said. “But beyond that, if people are getting ballots at their homes, it’s easier for them to vote without having to take time to get off work, go to the polls and brave some super-long line.”

Blank said the primary runoffs, set to occur this summer, usually have low turnouts, but he expects them to be even lower this summer.

“The fact that the runoffs have been moved from May to July, the dead middle of summer in sweltering Texas … plus the coronavirus is going to depress turnout even further than we would normally see in a runoff election, which means that in some cases we might find strange results,” Blank said.