Can a county clerk send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters? Texas Supreme Court hears arguments

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in the case involving Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins’ attempt to send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters in his county.

An attorney with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office argued that Hollins does not have the authority to send an application out unless a voter has specifically requested one. Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins said many of the statutes presented in this case involve the word ‘request.’

“In 1.010B, we once again see that word request, it’s been the law for decades that we read statutes holistically, in accordance with the company that they keep. And we see in that sense that 1.010 is tied in with 84.012 and 84.013. They all hinge on the idea of request,” Hawkins said.

But Hollins’ attorney, Susan Hays, argued that the Texas election code does give the clerks power to, ‘manage and conduct,’ elections.

This year, that’s especially important during the pandemic, as elections administrators work to reduce the number of voters at polling locations and decrease wait times.

“By increasing the ratio of voters who vote by mail you decrease the bodies that come into the polling place,” Hays said.

When questioned about the idea that mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud, Hays said sending out applications does not invite fraudulent voting.

“Fraudulent votes aren’t acceptable, but the act of giving someone an application doesn’t increase fraud,” Hays argued.

The state also argued that the clerk’s mailers could be confusing to voters.

“The Harris County Clerk’s plan to send unsolicited applications to vote by mail to every registered voter in Harris County, the vast majority of whom are not eligible to vote by mail, is ultra virus, and therefore, unlawful. And that ultra virus action inflicts irreparable harm on the state, both as a distinct and cognizable sovereign injury, and also, by increasing the likelihood of voter confusion on the eve of a national election,” Hawkins argued.

But Hays said the wording in the application is very clear.

“The court should assume voters can read,” Hays said, “Let them decide for themselves as this Court said they could….whether they’re eligible. Read the instructions and send that application in so they can vote and vote safely this election,” Hays said.

The court has paused the clerk’s efforts to mail the applications out until it makes an official decision. The court did not indicate when that decision will come.

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