Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has said that the county has seen a huge uptick in the number of requests for mail-in ballots amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
As first reported by KXAN, DeBeauvoir noted that her office had received about 17,000 requests for mail-in ballots in the July 14 runoff election when the usual number of requests during runoff elections is only around 1,000.
A representative from DeBeauvoir’s office confirmed the accuracy of the report.
The dispute over the use of mail-in ballots for voters concerned about the spread of COVID-19 has become a heated partisan issue.
While Republicans have maintained that widespread use of mail-in ballots could lead to an increase in election fraud, Democrats say that an expansion of the voting method is necessary for the health and safety of voters.
Under state law, voters can qualify to use a mail-in ballot if they:
- will be out of the county on election day and during early voting;
- are sick or disabled;
- will be 65 years of age or older on election day; or
- are eligible to vote but confined to jail.
With individuals over 65 years old accounting for 70 percent of coronavirus-related reported deaths in the state, the majority of the vulnerable population already qualifies for mail-in ballots.
In order to receive a mail-in ballot, a voter must submit an application through the county election voting clerk.
The Supreme Court of Texas has ruled that the “lack of physical immunity to COVID-19” does not qualify as a “disability” under the state’s election code which allows the use of a mail-in ballot.
In their ruling, the court said that ultimately, since the state does not have the authority to investigate mail-in ballot applications — only potential fraud after the fact — it is up to local election officials to inform voters of the qualifications and individual voters to decide whether they are met.
How much the pandemic has affected the increase in mail-in ballot requests in Travis County is unclear.
Another potential factor to contribute to the increase in mail-in ballot requests is the special election scheduled for Texas Senate District 14, which covers three-quarters of the county’s population.
In February, Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) announced his resignation from the seat, triggering a special election.
While the special election was initially expected to be held in May, it was postponed to the July 14 date along with the state primary runoff elections due to the coronavirus.
The winner of the SD 14 special election will fill the remainder of Watson’s term through 2022, after the 2021 legislative session.
The Texan has requested information from the Travis County clerk’s office on the typical number of mail-in ballots for primary elections for additional comparison.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.