Voting by Mail
CURRENT COURT RULINGS
Several lawsuits have been brought challenging the interpretation of the Texas statute that limits the right to vote by mail, including federal cases that have not yet been resolved.
Until the federal courts rule on who can vote by mail, a May 27, 2020 Texas Supreme Court decision is in effect.
In its decision, the court said that although "a lack of immunity to COVID-19 is not itself a 'physical condition' that renders a voter eligible to vote by mail," "a voter can take into consideration aspects of his health and his health history that are physical conditions in deciding whether, under the circumstances, to apply to vote by mail because of disability."
WHO MAY VOTE BY MAIL
According to the Texas Secretary of State's website, "Only specific reasons entitle a registered voter to vote early by mail (no longer called absentee voting). You may request a ballot by mail if you:
will be away from your county on Election Day and during the hours that early voting is conducted;
are sick or disabled;
are 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or
are confined in jail."
APPLYING TO VOTE BY MAIL
If one of these four reasons applies to you (and you are not ineligible to register to vote), you can request an Application for Ballot by Mail (ABBM) from the Early Voting Clerk in your county, or you can print an ABBM directly from the Texas Secretary of State's office (PDF), (Spanish version (PDF).
If you are eligible to vote by mail, you must re-apply each year beginning on January 1st. If you are 65 years of age or older OR you have a disability, you may request to receive ballots for all elections and runoffs held that year. If you do not apply at the beginning of the year, be sure to apply prior to the deadline to request an ABBM form prior to the first election you want to vote in that year. Read the instructions carefully, fill out the application, and return it to your county Early Voting Clerk.
Upon receiving the application, the Early Voting clerk will determine whether you are eligible to vote by mail. If you are and you submitted your application early enough, you should receive your ballot about 30 days before the election. If you applied closer to the election date, you should receive your ballot about 10 days after the clerk verifies your application.
Once you've received your ballot, fill it out and return it to your county Early Voting Clerk in time to arrive on or before Election Day.
REMEMBER: Mail your ballot in early enough to arrive in the office of the early voting clerk by Election Day, or by 5:00 p.m. the day after Election Day if postmarked by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, or your vote will not be counted.
TEXAS VOTE BY MAIL LAWSUITS
The two questions at issue in the recent lawsuits concerning Texans' right to vote by mail are:
whether lack of immunity to COVID-19 falls within the definition of "disability" under Texas statues; and
whether the Texas statute on voting by mail discriminates against voters under the age of 65 under the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Texas Election Code (Section 82.02) defines disability as "a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health [emphasis added]."
Plaintiffs in the lawsuits argue that in-person voting by persons who are not immune to COVID-19 is likely to injure the voter's health, and that therefore, persons who are at risk should be permitted to vote by mail under the definition of disability in the Texas statute.
While the Texas Supreme Court ruled On May 27, 2020, that a voter cannot vote by mail merely because they lack immunity to COVID-19, the Court said a voter can take into account their health history in deciding whether they have a physical condition that presents a likelihood that they will injure their health by voting in person. The Court made clear that voters must ultimately make this determination for themselves. It further clarified that county election officials do not investigate the reason behind why a voter marks the disability box.
Despite the qualifications noted by the court, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has since said, "Any voter who checks disability on a mail-in ballot application based on a fear of COVID-19, would be violating Texas law and anyone who causes a voter to do so would also be in violation of the law."
Another lawsuit is asking the Supreme Court of the United States to consider whether the Texas statute violates the 26th Amendment, which states that "The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age." The plaintiffs in this case claim that the current law discriminates against voters under the age of 65.