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County Attorney Vince Ryan Files Brief Seeking Vote by Mail Clarity

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan yesterday asked an appeals court for an order clarifying that the County can proceed with vote by mail applications for the July 14th primary runoff.

Travis County State District Court Judge Tim Sulak issued an order April 17 allowing citizens to request a vote by mail ballot based on “disability,” one of the allowable reasons to request a mail ballot, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. His order also prevents the state from “taking actions” to prevent county elections officials from accepting and counting mail-in ballots from those voters.

Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the ruling claimed this prevents it from being enforced. County Attorney Ryan disagrees and asks the court to issue an order stating the trial court’s order stands pending appeal and that such mail ballot applications can be accepted.

“The order from Judge Sulak was very clear in stating that counties can proceed with accepting mail ballot requests,” County Attorney Ryan said. “Unfortunately, the Attorney General’s press statements and refusal in accepting the trial court’s preliminary injunction have injected additional uncertainty into the process.”

Ryan’s brief reports preparations for the July 14th runoff are underway now and that vote by mail applications have increased, with a number of persons filing applications for the runoff who did not vote by mail in the primary. In addition, the County has received a larger number of applications stating “disability” as the reason for the mail ballot.

The County Attorney points out that polling by Prof. Robert M. Stein of Rice University shows that two-thirds of those he recently surveyed say they are very or somewhat likely to vote by mail if they can, regardless of age, race, gender or party affiliation.  Other polling shows some voters may not vote at all without access to mail-in voting because of the pandemic.

“What concerns me about the polling is that nine percent of Texans surveyed stated if they cannot vote by mail and are only eligible to vote in person in the July 14 run-off, they do not plan to vote at all,” said County Attorney Ryan. “While Attorney General Paxton as a political actor may wish to suppress the vote and keep those citizens who are unwilling to risk their lives and health from voting, such a goal is unconstitutional.”

The Harris County Attorney asks the Appeals Court to immediately issue a temporary order clarifying that the trial court judge’s order which entitles any citizen without immunity to coronavirus to vote by mail remains in effect for the duration of the appeal and that those mail ballot applications that specify “disability” will be valid and counted in the runoff.

“The safety of Harris County voters and election workers depends on it,” said County Attorney Ryan.

See the County Attorney’s brief here.