Texas court’s bizarre ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ ruling on absentee ballots confuses everyone

Man in red shirt with his hands in his hair


Everything’s bigger in Texas! Including the confusion.

The Texas Supreme Court issued its ruling on whether voters who lack immunity to COVID-19 have a valid “excuse” to vote by mail.

The ruling that wasn’t really a ruling

Texas flag waving in the wind.

Flickr / Ray Bodden

What the court said:

  • Voters who lack immunity and who fear getting the virus CAN NOT vote by mail.
  • Voters with physical conditions that prevent them from voting CAN vote by mail.
  • Elected officials won’t check the validity of excuses, and it will be up to each voter under the honor system to decide whether they should be able to legally vote by mail.
  • Voters who lack immunity and fear the disease who DO vote by mail will face criminal prosecution by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Slate described this as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. They call it “a recipe for disaster” given that AG Paxton says he will prosecute “those who advise voters who lack immunity and fear the disease to vote by mail.”

Your word against theirs

Close up photo of a person wearing a medical face mask


“The election law in question says a person can only vote by mail if the would-be voter ‘has 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.’ ” — Chad Flanders and Kristen Spina in Slate

Yes, you could take someone’s temperature, but because you’re at 98.6 degrees, it doesn’t mean that you’re not sick, disabled, susceptible to a virus, or not spreading a virus.

It boils down to each individual having control over their own body and determining whether or not voting in person would be a health hazard.

Texas government officials would rather some of their citizens die than all of them get a chance to vote.

What’s next?

Photo of an empty courtroom


For now? A lot more posturing. The Texas AG has already threatened anyone who votes by mail:

  • That doesn’t fit neatly into these nebulous categories.
  • Or that advises someone else to vote by mail who isn’t officially deemed “disabled.” Each could be charged in a criminal conspiracy to commit voter fraud.

Sounds like a certain president is writing Paxton’s talking points.

The bottom line: Paxton will continue his legal threats, which may or may not even be legal. Unfortunately, it will probably have the effect of scaring off some voters into bypassing the mail-in ballot route – even if it’s their only method to getting in their ballot.

It’s curious that one party wants everyone to vote and one party only wants their people to vote. But that’s what happens when voter suppression is the only route to winning.

In the meantime, the case will probably be sent back to the district court. Hopefully, they’ll take the pandemic into account  — something that Texas officials won’t.

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