The Center Square – Opponents of the Harris County Clerk’s office plan to send every registered voter an application to vote by mail is requesting the Texas Supreme Court intervene to halt any mailings of ballots.
The plaintiffs, Dr. Steven Hotze, M.D., the Harris County Republican Party, and Sharon Hemphill, are represented by Houston based attorney Jared Woodfill, of Woodfill Law Firm, PC.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced last week that the county commissioners, solely along party lines, “approved a historic $17 million investment to expand access to the ballot box,” including three times the number of early voting locations, extended hours until 10 p.m. for three days, and 24-hour voting for one drive-thru voting location, and mail-in ballot *application* to all registered voters.”
All but $1 million will come from federal CARES Act money intended to help people suffering from the state and county shutdowns. The funds are in addition to the $12 million approved earlier this year to expand mail-in voting.
Analysts note the cost will be seven times more than administering the 2016 election. Critics argue the impact of election fraud on ballot harvesting could be enormous.
The Harris County Clerk’s Office has published 23 initiatives at https://harrisvotes.com/SAFE. Among them, is the initiative to mail every registered voter – 2.37 million people – an application to vote by mail.
“Harris County is offering a new way to vote: once you have filled out your Vote by Mail ballot, you can drop it off at any of our 11 County Clerk offices during business hours,” the Clerk’s Office said.
In response, on Thursday, the Secretary of State sent a letter to the clerk telling him to halt the mail-in voting plan or face legal action from the Attorney General’s office.
“By sending applications to all voters, including many who do not qualify for voting by mail, your office may cause voters to provide false information on the form,” Texas Elections Director Keith Ingram wrote in a letter to Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins. “Your action thus raises serious concerns under Texas Election Code.”
Hollins’ plan “would be contrary to our office’s guidance on this issue and an abuse of voters’ rights under Texas Election Code Section 31.005,” Ingram said.
Under Texas law, voting by mail is lawful only under limited circumstances.
“As you know, the Texas Election Code requires that voters have a qualifying reason to vote by mail,” Ingram explained in his letter. “They must be 65 years or older, disabled, out of the county while voting is occurring, or confined in jail but otherwise eligible to vote. It is not possible that every voter in Harris County will satisfy one or more of these requirements.”
According to a report by the Texas Tribune, Hollins is continuing with his plan, and ballot applications will be mailed out by the end of September.
“Voters will, of course, make their own decisions if they qualify to vote by mail,” Hollins said. “Providing more information and resources to voters is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
The writ of mandamus asks the court to compel Hollins “to perform his statutory duties to only send early applications to vote by mail to individuals who request them in accordance with the Texas Election Code.”
“Harris County has a rogue clerk who is abusing the application to vote by mail process and compromising the integrity of elections in Harris County,” Woodfill told The Center Square. He says he is hopeful the state Supreme Court will act quickly on his clients’ request for relief.
“Because statewide voting is fast approaching, and applications are being sent to voters who have not requested them or may not be disabled, mandamus relief is necessary,” the complaint states.
If granted, the mandamus would require Hollins to immediately cease sending applications to vote by mail to any registered voter who has not sent in the initial request for an application to vote by mail.
It would also require him to refrain from processing any application to vote by mail received as a result of his office having mailed an application not initially requested by the voter; and prevent him from counting ballots received as a result of “unlawfully sending an application to vote by mail that was not initially requested by the voter.”