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Federal appeals court temporarily halts expansion of mail-in voting in Texas

Thursday, May 21, 2020 by Ashley Lopez, KUT

An expansion of Texas’ vote-by-mail program during the pandemic is on hold, again.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling from a day earlier that opened up mail-in voting to people under 65.

Texas has one of the strictest vote-by-mail programs in the country. It’s open only to people age 65 or older, people who will be out of the country, people who are in jail and not convicted, and people who are sick or disabled.

Voting groups argued in federal court that the state’s laws create unconstitutional barriers to voting during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery agreed, and ordered state officials to allow Texans under 65 to vote by mail.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said he is concerned about the potential for voter fraud and that opening up vote-by-mail would jeopardize the integrity of the election. He appealed the decision Wednesday morning, and the court granted the temporary halt just hours later.

Ed Espinoza, executive director of the nonprofit Progress Texas, said in a statement that Paxton is “fighting against common-sense efforts to keep Texans safe” during a pandemic.

“Unfounded calls of voter fraud are simply Republicans’ excuse to suppress the vote, as they attempt to restrict which Texas voters are safely able to cast their ballots,” Espinoza said. “Texas already allows no-excuse vote-by-mail for voters 65 and up, and the state must extend that practice to all Texas voters, regardless of age, to avoid unnecessary death and illness during this crisis.”

Paxton applauded the 5th Circuit’s quick ruling.

“Protecting the integrity of elections is one of my top priorities, and allowing universal mail-in ballots would only lead to greater fraud and disenfranchise lawful voters,” Paxton said. “Law established by the Legislature must be followed consistently, including carefully limiting who may and may not vote by mail.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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