A resolution passed by Dallas County Commissioners on Tuesday encourages voters to seek a ballot by mail if they are fearful of contracting COVID-19 by voting in person. Commissioner John Wiley Price proposed the resolution, and Commissioner J.J. Koch was the only opposing vote.
The next election scheduled in Dallas County is the runoff election on July 14 with early voting beginning on July 6.
Current election law in Texas allows voters to request a ballot by mail if they are age 65 or older, have a disability, will be absent from the county during the election period, or are confined to jail. Applicants must sign the document certifying the truth of the information contained therein.
The Dallas County resolution urges voters to indicate that they have a “disability” on the application if they wish to vote by mail instead of in-person due to coronavirus concerns.
Several counties have encouraged voters to seek mail-in ballots.
Harris County, the state’s most populous county, is allocating $12 million to provide mail-in ballots to voters. A state district judge in Travis County issued an injunction on April 17 to allow voters to mark “disability” as a reason for receiving a mail-in ballot in light of the coronavirus pandemic, even if they are not ill with the virus.
Recently Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion regarding this effort, claiming that “fear of contracting COVID-19 unaccompanied by a qualifying sickness or physical condition does not constitute a disability under the Texas Election Code for purposes of receiving a ballot by mail.” Paxton has also appealed the Travis County judge’s decision.
Price, who cited the threat of COVID-19 to the health and safety of Dallas County residents as a reason for his mail-in ballot resolution, has also repeatedly encouraged the county to allow small businesses in the county to open because of the economic damage being done by the county’s stay-at-home orders.
In contrast to the wording about the health threat in his voting resolution, Price questioned the advising doctors during the court’s COVID-19 update saying, “You’re not preventing, just delaying. Unless we stay at home for the next year, you are going to get this.”
Koch, who opposed the resolution, read Paxton’s letter during the meeting. He explained his concern that the court was encouraging the commission of a crime by citizens who certify that they have a disability or illness when they actually don’t.
“We refuse to do things the right way, particularly when it comes to voting matters. We need to take a wait-and-see approach instead of making statements that would confuse voters.”
Paxton warned in his letter that “to the extent third parties advise voters to apply for a ballot by mail for reasons…including fear of contracting COVID-19 without an accompanying qualifying disability, such activity could subject those third parties to criminal sanctions imposed by Election Code.”
Most public comments to the Court opposed the resolution. Several comments addressed concern about voter fraud.
“COVID-19 has weakened our society already, don’t let it weaken the power of my voice or the power of my vote,” Kailea Humphries told the court in her comments. She encouraged implementing times of voting for those with concerns, similar to the hours set aside by retail stores for vulnerable citizens to shop.
Vicki Little, who opposed the matter, pointed out that curbside voting is already available for voting at the polls to those with health concerns.
Former state representative Cindy Burkett encouraged the court to table the resolution. “Susceptibility to a virus is not a qualifying disability. The Texas Attorney General has already stated publicly that his office will investigate and potentially prosecute the misuse of the term disabled. Your deliberate instruction…to voters is going to put them in danger of prosecution.”
Alice Kinsey of Texas Organizing Project (TOP) spoke in support of the resolution. “I don’t feel I should have to put my life at risk to vote.”
She encouraged the county commissioners to send an application to vote by mail to every voter in Dallas County. TOP is a left-leaning group that “organizes Black and Latino communities in Dallas.” It has also pushed for the release of inmates from jails during the COVID-19 crisis.
The state has appealed the decision by Travis County’s district court, and according to Paxton, the District Court’s order has no effect until a final decision on the appeal is rendered.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.