Texas Can't Offer Absentee Ballots to Some but Not Others

Hand with pen filling out ballot
A voter fills out the mail-in Democratic runoff ballot for a summer election delayed in Texas by the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Bob Daemmrich / Alamy Stock Photo

Texas law currently denies all voters under the age of 65 the ability to vote by mail without an excuse. As a result, Texas’ absentee ballot eligibility rules violate the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”

While that is problematic in any context, it is particularly so in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced voters to seek safe voting options, including the ability to vote from home.

A District Court has already agreed that Texas’ absentee voter eligibility rules violate the Constitution, and the issue is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of its client, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and its Texas chapter, arguing that the court should affirm the District Court’s decision. LULAC regularly engages in voter registration, voter education and other activities among its members and their communities.

Voting in-person poses a higher health risk than voting at home, which is why several states have voluntarily moved to waive excuse requirements after health experts have warned for months about the potential for large public gatherings to hasten the spread of the virus and exacerbate the current health crisis gripping America.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that election officials offer alternative voting methods that minimize direct contact and reduce crowd size at polling locations, including offering alternatives to in-person voting.

As coronavirus cases surge in the state, Texas officials are wasting taxpayer money to prolong an unnecessary legal fight against the recommendations offered by public health experts and a lower court decision granting a vote-by-mail extension.

Racial Impact of 65+ Voting Law

The demographics of Texas’ voting age population tell an interesting story of the state government’s policies, which demonstrate a preference for older, white voters. According to data produced by the CDC, Black and Latinx Americans are about three times as likely to get diagnosed with COVID-19 as Anglo Americans.

Meanwhile, more than 264,313 Texans have now been diagnosed with COVID-19, over 10,400 are currently hospitalized, and 3,235 have died from the disease. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in July 2020: “things will get worse.”

The population trends in the state show the unequal impact of Texas’s law. 22.7% of Anglo voters are 65 or older, compared to only 12.5% of Black voters and 11.4% of Latinx voters. This dynamic creates a situation where Anglo voters, as a group, have more options and access to voting than other groups. That is shown by the fact that Anglo voters are 52.2% of the total voter population but represent more than two-thirds – or 67.5% of the population over 65.

Denying any voter the ability to safely vote by mail during this ongoing public health crisis is unacceptable, regardless of their age, race or health situation.

Corey handles media relations for the CLC voting rights and redistricting teams and creates online content. Follow @cgfromdc on Twitter