Protecting the Safety and Rights of Voters

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 9/11/2020, 4 a.m.
A safe, secure, efficient, accessible, and fair voting process for every registered voter has always been the goal of Chris …

A safe, secure, efficient, accessible, and fair voting process for every registered voter has always been the goal of Chris Hollins since he was appointed as Harris County Clerk. His office is committed to inclusivity because he believes the “right to vote is fundamental to what it means to be free and have a voice in our democracy.” With that in mind, Hollins has proposed mailing applications to vote by mail to all registered voters that are 65 years old and up regardless if they requested the application or not. Republicans have a big problem with that and have filed two lawsuits to put a stop to it.

According to the Harris County Clerk’s website, part of the role of the Harris County Clerk is to be the administrator of elections and work with the Commissioners Court, the Tax Assessor Collector, the major political parties, and other stakeholders to establish an elections infrastructure that facilitates access to the voting process to the citizenry of the third largest county in the United States. Since taking office after Dr. Diane Trautman stepped down due to personal health concerns surrounding COVID, Hollins’ top priority has been to make sure every registered voter has the opportunity to vote and that they can do it safely.

“We are living in a challenging time. This November, our office will administer the most consequential election of our lifetime amid a global health pandemic. The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, and I will work tirelessly to ensure that Harris County residents can exercise that right safely, conveniently, and with the peace of mind that their vote will be counted,” said Hollins.

In making sure he kept that promise, Hollins sent out close to 380,000 vote by mail ballot applications in June to every registered voter 65 years old and up for the July runoffs. He wants to do that again for the November elections.

Why Republicans Have A Problem

Texas is one of seven states that do not allow the universal right of all voters to be deemed eligible to vote by mail. Currently, the eligibility requirements to vote by mail are:

*Be 65 years or older by Election Day

*Be outside of Harris County for all of the entire Early Voting

period and on Elections Day

*Be confined in jail, but otherwise eligible to vote

*Have a disability

Being disabled is the point that does not sit well with the Texas GOP and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The term disability is very broadly defined in Texas. The election code dictates that a voter must have a “sickness or physical condition” that hinders them from voting in person as a disability. A voter would need another reason besides the fear of getting COVID to vote by mail. The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that a weakened immune system plus their medical history could meet the disability criteria and make the said voter eligible to cast their vote via mail. The problem for Republicans is the way Texas’ elections guidelines are set the voter is the one, not a medical professional, determining if they qualify for being a person with a disability.

“There is no form they have to fill out, they don’t have to swear to it, don’t have to sign anything; all they have to do is say, ‘I want (a mail-in ballot) because in my view I need one,” Nathan Hecht, the chief of the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court told the Houston Chronicle. Therein lies the loop hole.

Since COVID is so contagious and has struck fear in the American public, many voters are expected to opt to vote by mail claiming the disability status to limit their risk of exposure. Hollins is trying to alleviate that burden from voters by sending all 2.4 million registered voters in the county a vote by mail application. However, since the Texas AG Paxton has filed a lawsuit saying Hollins was exceeding his authority as the Harris County Clerk, Hollins has selected to just send applications to those 65 and up.

“Election officials have a duty to reject mail-in ballot applications from voters who are not eligible to vote by mail. Unfortunately, instead of protecting the integrity of our democratic process, the Harris County Clerk decided to knowingly violate election laws by preparing to send over two million ballot applications to many Texans who do not qualify and have not requested to vote by mail,” said Attorney General Paxton. “This blatant violation of law undermines our election security and integrity and cannot stand. I will continue to fight for safe, fair, and legal elections across the state.”

This case is very interesting since Republicans are doing something similar trying to bump voting by asking voters to go the absentee route by sending voters unsolicited applications with none other than Donald Trump’s photo on the material.

At this point you may be confused on how a vote by mail ballot and an absentee ballot differ. The answer is that it depends on the state. In Texas, the term vote by mail is a broader term to have ballots sent via mail while an absentee ballot is a little more as it is a ballot strictly for those who can’t physically make it the polls. Note above the four different criteria a voter can mail in their ballot for vote by mail. All absentee ballots are sent by mail but all are not considered absentee according to

In the lawsuit, Paxon’s office is also claiming that Hollins’ office can only send applications to those that request them and those voters may wrongly think that they are eligible to vote by mail.

“Ensuring vulnerable populations can vote by mail during a pandemic is designed to protect human life & access to the vote,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted about the subject. “Those who stand in the way—using voter suppression as an electoral strategy—are throwing a wrench in democracy. We’ll keep fighting.”

Yet others are not thinking about the health of Americans. They instead tend to believe it is just dirty politics. The Texas Tribune reported Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick saying what Hollins is doing is a “scam by Democrats” and it would end America. Of course, Trump has expressed his dislike of the issue via his favorite medium.

In this country, every citizen has the right to vote and do so in a safe place. With so many things attacking this most precious right all need to do whatever you can to protect it at all costs.

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