Oct 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Texas Supreme Court blocks plan to mail out unsolicited ballot applications

Illustration of an elephant trunk holding a small Texas state flag

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Republican-dominated Texas Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Chris Hollins, the Democratic Harris County Clerk, may not mail unsolicited ballot applications to some 2.4 million voters.

Driving the news: Texans can only vote by mail if they are over 65 years of age, absent on Election Day, disabled, imprisoned or if they have confidential addresses. Hollins sent out applications to all voters aged over 65 in Harris County, according to BuzzFeed News, but had been trying to send them to all voters in case they too were eligible.

  • "Mass-mailing unsolicited ballot applications to voters ineligible to vote by mail cannot be said to be necessary or indispensable to the conduct of early voting," the court ruled.
  • Because no other county is doing this and it's at such a large scale, the court also said that "his plan threatens to undermine the statutorily required uniform operation of election laws across the state."
  • As for any loopholes, the court already ruled in May that a lack of immunity to the coronavirus does not qualify a voter as disabled under state law.
  • The documents are often distributed by political campaigns, according to the Texas Tribune, but the court said a government official was not allowed to do so.

Why it matters: Texas, which is traditionally a red state, is closer than usual in both the presidential and Senate races. Such a close race has led Republicans across the nation to challenge voting by mail during the pandemic as Democrats have sought to expand options for voters.

The state of play: Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a proclamation requiring all mail ballots be dropped off at the one voting clerk's office designated per county for "enhanced ballot security protocol." This meant the closure of 11 drop-off locations that Harris County had set up.

  • Texas Democrats believe the decision is anti-democratic and have started to campaign against the four justices up for re-election this year.
  • Harris County clerk staff members have sent out almost 230,000 mail ballots so far.
Go deeper