Judge Sandill Rejects Request to Halt Harris County Mail Ballot Plan

Houston: A judge on Friday rejected Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request to halt Harris County’s plan to send mail ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters.

State District Judge R.K. Sandill denied Paxton’s request for a temporary injunction, stating that nothing in the Texas Election Code bars Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins from carrying out the plan.

Sandill was unpersuaded by the state’s argument that sending applications to voters, accompanied by eligibility rules, would lead residents to apply for mail ballots for which they do not qualify. Texas Elections Director Keith Ingram warned that this would lead to voter fraud and potential felony prosecutions of residents.

“This Court firmly believes that Harris County voters are capable of reviewing and understanding the document Mr. Hollins proposes to send and exercising their voting rights in compliance with Texas law,” Sandill wrote in his opinion.

A Hollins spokeswoman said the clerk’s office would begin mailing applications Saturday, beginning with voters 65 and older.

“The is a win for every registered voter in Harris County, and indeed, every voter in Texas,” Hollins said in a statement. “We are still enduring a global pandemic ahead of the most consequential election of our lifetime, and voters are concerned about their health and the health of their loved ones.”

Paxton appealed Sandill’s decision Friday afternoon. He said election officials have a duty to reject mail ballot applications from residents who are ineligible and said many of Hollins’ mailers would reach residents who do not qualify for an absentee ballot.

“This action blatantly violates state law, will cause voter confusion, and undermines our election security,” the attorney general said in a statement.

Mail ballots have become the focus of fierce debate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas is one of only a handful of states where residents need a valid reason to vote by mail.

They must be 65 or older, disabled, imprisoned or out of their home county during the voting period. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that fear of the virus alone cannot qualify as a disability, but that it could be one of several factors a voter may consider.

   Chief Justice Nathan Hecht told the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board that this leaves voters to decide for themselves whether they are disabled. Hollins has no duty under the Election Code to challenge mail ballot applications.

A similar challenge by the Harris County Republican Party and conservative activist Dr. Steven Hotze remains before the Supreme Court. In a filing after Sandill’s ruling Friday, Republican Party lawyer Jared Woodfill asked the high court to order law enforcement to seize mailers before Hollins could send them. The court had yet to act on the request. — Houston Chronicle