Texas judge allows vote by mail amid coronavirus fears

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A county judge in Texas said on Wednesday he would allow mail-in ballots from any voters who fear for their health because of the coronavirus pandemic, attorneys involved in the case said.

In a hearing via video, Judge Tim Sulak in the 353rd civil district court told lawyers for the state attorney general’s office and representatives of the Texas Democratic Party that he would approve a temporary injunction allowing any voter to use a mail-in ballot at least through July elections.

In Texas, voting by mail is only allowed if a citizen meets specific disability guidelines.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said the chaotic April 7 election in Wisconsin, in which voters were forced to risk health concerns to head to the polls, showed that election rules must adjust to the realities of the pandemic.

“Voters should not have to choose between their lives or their right to vote,” he said.

The Texas Attorney General’s office is expected to appeal the decision. Calls and emails to the office were not returned.

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday released a letter his office sent to Stephanie Klick, state representative and chairwoman of the elections committee, arguing that mail-in ballots for everyone were illegal under Texas law.

Texas law, the letter said, makes clear that “fear of contracting COVID-19 unaccompanied by a qualifying sickness or physical condition does not constitute a disability under the Election Code for purposes of receiving a ballot by mail.”

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