The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Texas Democrats’ request to fast-track a bid to allow Texans to vote-by-mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, the case has gone back to a lower court but has the potential to be back before the Supreme Court before the November election. Whatever happens, all Texans need to be able to vote-by-mail by the election, so everyone can vote safely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at facilities for polling locations. According to the CDC, elections with only in-person voting on a single day are at a higher risk for COVID-19 because there will be larger crowds and longer wait times.
But no one’s safety is ensured no matter how healthy or young they are, which is why everyone needs to be able to vote-by-mail if they do not feel safe doing so in-person.
Hays County is known for crowded lines at its designated polling locations. In this year’s primary election voting at Texas State’s LBJ Student Center, some voters reported waiting in line up to five hours. During the 2018 midterm election, people also waited ridiculous amounts of time to submit their ballots, with some saying the lines mirrored that of a presidential election—a chilling statement for a reality that is only a few months away.
Additionally, San Marcos continues to be a hot spot for the virus and the city with the highest number of active cases in the county. These are not appropriate conditions for people to be standing for hours in long lines, creating even more reasoning for there to be a mail-in voting option for all.
A new study from the CDC shows an estimated 40% of people are asymptomatic, and the chance of transmission from people with no symptoms is 75%. Although people with an underlying medical condition (i.e., asthma, diabetes, lung disease or heart disease) are more vulnerable than those who are considered healthy, everyone is still at risk of falling ill from COVID-19.
If the case is brought back to the Supreme Court’s attention before the election and they decide not to require Texas to allow mail-in voting during the pandemic, it will look like a tactic to suppress a person’s right to vote. Preventing qualified voters from getting to the polls in a federal election is a civil rights violation and an election crime.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick opposed expanding mail-in voting, though they have all used it.
Paxton argues that mail-in voting should remain limited to protect voter fraud; however, studies show that voter fraud in local elections is rare, if not, nonexistent. Paxton is attempting to justify his position on mail-in voting by saying voter fraud is a major threat to elections, but there is no exponential evidence that backs his claim.
The Texas Election Code defines disability, one of the few exceptions to allow one to vote-by-mail, as a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents a voter from appearing in person without the risk of “injuring the voter’s health.” Paxton says that fear of contracting COVID-19 does not amount to sickness or physical condition required by state law.
He claims that “mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are legitimately ill and cannot vote in-person without needing assistance or jeopardizing their health.” But without the option to apply for a mail-in ballot, thousands of people will be standing in long lines jeopardizing their health. Therefore, Paxton’s interpretation of disability justifies Texans’ need to apply to receive a mail-in ballot.
People who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 may heal. Others may not be so lucky.
COVID-19 is a silent killer, one that is very capable of jeopardizing a person’s health. The threat from COVID-19 outweighs Paxton and Patrick’s flimsy arguments tenfold. In Texas, over 3,000 people have died from COVID-19, and nearly 300,000 people have tested positive. Meanwhile, Texas hospitals are almost at full capacity for a second time.
By not giving all Texans equal opportunity to vote-by-mail in these unprecedented times, Republican officials are putting Texans’ health at risk once again.
As it stands, the Supreme Court’s decision has enabled Texas to prevent a mass of qualified voters from getting to the polls. People should not choose between their lives, or the lives of others, and their right to vote in a major election.
Eligible voters will have no alternative option to standing in line where social distancing is impossible. This year, if Texans want to exercise their right to vote, it may just cost them their lives.
To prevent further spreading of the virus, it is crucial the courts decide to allow all qualified voters the ability to vote-by-mail. This decision is not about Republicans versus Democrats. It is about preserving the people’s right to vote safely under such egregious circumstances.
– Amira Van Leeuwen is a journalism sophomore