Texas AG, Harris County clerk in fight over mail-in ballots

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HOUSTON – Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is speaking out about a lawsuit filed against his office by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to over two million Harris County registered voters.

Paxton’s lawsuit claims Hollins’ plan was in violation of Texas election laws, which state mail-in ballots are reserved for a few limited categories of qualified voters who are age 65 and older and voters who are disabled. Earlier this year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that fear of contracting COVID-19 does not qualify as a “disability” and mail-in ballots must be preserved for qualifying groups.

“Election officials have a duty to reject mail-in ballot applications from voters who are not eligible to vote by mail,” said Paxton. “This blatant violation of law undermines our election security and integrity and cannot stand. I will continue to fight for safe, fair, and legal elections across the state.”

Hollins says he is not in violation, and that arming voters with valuable information is of benefit to the community, with health concerns amid the pandemic also being a key priority.

“My role is to protect the right to vote and make voting as safe and convenient as possible for the voters of Harris County. I also have a statutory duty to make public forms available and this is in furtherance of that,” Hollins said, adding that the mailings will include a disclosure letter explaining in bold who qualifies.

“We want to put the resource in your hand and allow you to make your own decisions. That’s all we are doing. We are providing information to voters so they decide how to vote safely,” Hollins said.

Opposers like Paxton argue that people should proactively ask for the form, rather than having it sent to them automatically.

“That’s not how expansion of rights works,” Hollins told African-American News&Issues. “Some people don’t even know that voting by mail exists, some people don’t have access to telephones or the internet, or some people know that voting by mail exists but don’t know who qualifies and haven’t done that research. I think you can make it easier and more convenient for people and put it in front of them. That’s how customer service works.”

But is sending the form to everyone a waste of taxpayers’ money?

“I don’t believe so. Doing this can not only take people out of our voting centers to make the lines shorter for everybody else, but it could potentially save lives because you can keep people at home,” Hollins said. “It is very difficult to put a price on that and it is certainly higher than 50 cents.”

Applications for mail-in ballots can be dropped off in person before the start of early voting, which begins Oct. 13 for the general election, and local election officials must receive mailed applications by Oct. 23.

The U.S. Postal Service recommends that Texans ask for mail-in ballots no later than 15 days before Election Day to allow for enough time to receive and return them to the county.

Hollins’ office is also planning to purchase more mail-sorting equipment and bring on hundreds of temporary workers who will process, by hand, the voting-by-mail applications and ballots.

Remember, the deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5 and we encourage you to VOTE EARLY!

Hollins spoke on the current and historic reasons for not being left out of the election process.

“We are all watching what is going on right now and it is up to us to help decide the direction of our country, cities and states. If we believe things need to be different, we need to be involved in choosing who is going to lead that change going forward,” Hollins said. “Beyond all that, we all know that people of color — our ancestors — fought for our right to vote and we need to honor their legacy by exercising our constitutional right to do so.”