Texas Supreme Court Sides With AG To Pause COVID-19 Absentee Voting Push

Voting rights primer
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May 18, 2020 2:18 p.m.

This piece is part of our weekly Prime series on voting rights, but it has been moved outside of the paywall while we cover COVID-19.

As most states are proactively trying to expand absentee voting in light of the pandemic, Texas is pushing for the opposite, by aggressively fighting efforts by local officials and voter advocates to make absentee voting easier. The state’s Republican officials secured a preliminary victory in the fight. Democrats and voting rights groups had gone to court to make fear of contracting the virus a valid excuse for voting absentee, as some local officials indicated they would treat the fear as such. The groups had some success in lower state courts, and also have a related federal lawsuit pending, but the state Supreme Court on Friday said it was putting the lower state court rulings on hold while it considers the case on its merit. Friday’s ruling was a victory for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is arguing that only those who show signs of having contracted the virus qualify for the state’s exemptions to vote absentee.

Here are some more legal developments in the national fight over pandemic voting:

  • The ACLU filed a lawsuit in Tennessee, one of the few other states not recognizing the pandemic as a valid excuse to vote absentee, to loosen those restrictions.
  • Democrats filed an additional absentee voting lawsuit in federal court challenging Texas‘ restrictions on ballot harvesting, its signature matching requirements, its deadlines for the process and its lack of paid postage.
  • The state supreme court in Pennsylvania dismissed one lawsuit seeking to loosen the deadlines around absentee voting, but another lawsuit that is asking a federal court to change the deadlines, among other things, is still alive.
  • Disability advocates are suing Wisconsin to get absentee request forms sent to all registered voters and to force the hiring of more poll workers.
  • A federal court in Georgia dismissed a lawsuit seeking to delay the June primary there due to the pandemic.

Missouri GOP Gets Measure Cutting Anti-Gerrymandering Reform On Ballot: Missouri voters will be asked this fall to water down several anti-gerrymandering redistricting provisions they approved in 2018, with a ballot initiative advanced by statehouse Republicans last week. The new initiative also would let Missouri exclude non-citizens from its redistricting count, a longstanding goal of the GOP that would shift political power to white voters and away from diverse communities.

Lawsuit Seeks To Loosen North Carolina’s Ex-Felon Voting Restrictions: In non-coronavirus election news, voter groups are challenging North Carolina’s ban on ex-felon voting while they are on probation, parole, or post-release supervision. Nearly 60,000 North Carolinians are blocked from voting under the ban, according to the lawsuit, and the prohibition has a disproportionate effect on African Americans.

House Dems Push Major Pandemic Voter Reforms: Voting rights remains a priority for House Democrats in their pandemic-related bills, even if most of the measures stand little chance in the GOP Senate.

  • The coronavirus relief bill the House passed Friday expanded absentee and early voting, lowered some of the hurdles to voting absentee and boosted funding for adapting elections to the pandemic.
  • The House bill also would give the Census Bureau more time to complete its work, while blocking the release of citizenship data for redistricting purposes, as President Trump has pushed.
  • A separate House proposal would eliminate the state match requirement for receiving the election funding previously appropriated by Congress in prior COVID-19 response laws.
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