A writ of mandamus is a formal request for a constitutional question to jump to the highest court rather than first go through lower ones.
Since coronavirus threw a massive wrench into the election mix, advocates of expanding Texas’ mail-in ballot program see the public health crisis as an opportunity. The Texas Democratic Party filed a suit against the Secretary of State’s Office over the prospect of expanding those eligible to vote absentee to those “fearful of contracting coronavirus.”
Current statute allows a voter to vote by mail if they have a disability or sickness. Advocates of the change insist a fear of contracting the virus should fall under that provision.
Furthermore, the Secretary of State’s Office does not decide whose absentee request is approved. This responsibility lies with county election officials.
About two weeks ago, Harris County approved $12 million to provide absentee ballots for all voters. Dallas County followed suit, encouraging its voters to request a mail-in ballot if they are fearful of contracting coronavirus.
The state’s role comes after the fact in investigating cases of voter fraud. In an advisory from about a week ago, Paxton warned localities that expanded absentee ballot access could constitute fraud.
Last week, the Secretary of State’s Office referred a mail-in ballot fraud complaint to the attorney general’s office.
In filing the writ of mandamus, Paxton looks to expedite the decision on the matter and ideally receive a more favorable ruling than district courts would give him.
Paxton stated of the motion, “Each misapplication of Texas election law damages the integrity of our elections and increases the risk of voter fraud. In-person voting is the surest way to prevent voter fraud and guarantee that every voter is who they claim to be and has a fair opportunity to cast their vote.”
“It is unfortunate that certain county election officials have refused to perform their duties and have instead unlawfully gone beyond the Legislature’s determination of who is eligible to vote by mail. My office will continue to defend the integrity of Texas’s election laws,” he concluded.
The Texas Democratic Party’s General Counsel, Chad Dunn, responded to the motion, saying, “After a month of thousands of mail in ballot requests sent by Texans who are under the age of 65, Paxton now wants to upset the election process. Apparently, none of the counties agree with Ken Paxton’s view that everybody under age 65 has to vote in person during a pandemic and the court shouldn’t either. The Legislature provided for vote-by-mail in these pandemic circumstances.”
“Whether the state courts or the federal courts resolve the matter, a citizen’s right to vote will be protected,” he concluded.
Paxton is hoping for a decisive ruling against the expansion of the definition while Democrats hope to, at the very least, avoid that result — but ideally want to see a ruling that could result in expanded access to mail-in ballots.
The state’s runoff elections were pushed back to July 14 because of coronavirus complications. Early voting begins July 6 and the last day to register before the runoff is June 15.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.