The Texas Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the elections administrator of Harris County, the state’s most populous county, may not send out applications for mail-in ballots to the county’s 2.4 million registered voters.
“The Harris County Clerk proposes to mail unsolicited ballot applications to all registered voters under 65 years of age, only a fraction of whom are eligible to vote by mail,” the court wrote in an unsigned per curium opinion.
“Because no other election official in Texas is doing or has ever done what the Clerk proposes, his plan threatens to undermine the statutorily required uniform operation of election laws across the state.”
The court added, “We conclude that the Election Code does not authorize the mailing proposed by the Harris County Clerk.”
Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins’ office has been working to expand voting options beyond what is typically available during an election, The Texas Tribune reported.
Hollins had planned to send out applications for mail-in ballots to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county who would otherwise have to request for an application or find it online.
The state of Texas sued to block Hollins in August, saying he had “exceeded his legal authority” and that his plan would “cause confusion among voters, some of whom are not eligible for absentee ballots.”
An absentee voter has to be 65 years or older, sick or disabled, out of the county on election day and during the period for early voting or confined in jail.
Lower courts with Democratic judges took Hollins’ side, but the Republican Texas Supreme Court ruled against the county on Wednesday.
Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins called Hollins’ effort a “serious affront to electoral integrity on the eve of a national election,” citing cases of mail-in ballot fraud.
The applications can still be accessed online and can be distributed by political campaigns, parties and other organizations, but a government official cannot proactively send them out because it oversteps his authority, according to the ruling.
Harris County has already sent applications to voters over 65 years old who automatically qualify for absentee voting and other Texans who have requested them.
There are over 4.7 million people in Harris County as of July 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which means voter turnout could have a major impact on the results of the 2020 election.
In 2018, 17 percent of the Democratic votes for Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke were cast in Harris County, according to The Texas Tribune.
Texas Republicans have fought against efforts to expand Texas’ mail-in voting requirements during the coronavirus pandemic. The Texas Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that a lack of immunity to the coronavirus does not qualify a voter for an absentee ballot.
Texans have until Oct. 23 to request an absentee ballot, but the U.S. Postal Service recommends submitting applications by Oct. 19.
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