Appeals Court Denies Texas Democrats Bid to Expand Mail-In Voting

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
September 11, 2020Updated: September 11, 2020

A federal appeals court has denied Texas Democrats’ effort to expand mail-in voting in the state amid the pandemic.

The Texas Democrats brought the lawsuit against the state’s Republican leadership, arguing that Texas’ law that restricted no-excuse mail-in voting for any person ages at least 65 violated the 26th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that afford protections against voting rules that discriminate based on age.

Under the Texas Election Code, absentee voting is limited to voters who are aged 65 and over, disabled, absent from the country, or confined in jail, but are eligible to vote.

The Texas Democrats argued that the law amounts to an abridgment because it makes voting more difficult for one age group compared to another.

A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled on Thursday that the law did not violate the 26th Amendment because it merely confers a benefit to a certain age group and does not abridge the right to vote for others.

“A law that makes it easier for others to vote does not abridge any person’s right to vote for the purposes of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment,” the panel majority wrote in their opinion (pdf).

“Abridgment of the right to vote applies to laws that place a barrier or prerequisite to voting, or otherwise make it more difficult to vote, relative to the baseline.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Carl Stewart dissented saying that the law fails to treat members of the electorate equally with regard to mail-in voting and thus hurts younger voters.

“By giving younger voters fewer options, especially in the context of a dangerous pandemic where in-person voting is risky to public health and safety, their voting rights are abridged in relation to older voters who do not face this burden,” Stewart wrote.

The panel majority threw out the district court’s ruling that favored the Texas Democrats and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

Texas Democrats Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement to Reuters that they will continue “to fight in the district court for every Texan to have an equal right to vote, regardless of their age.”

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement he was pleased with the 5th Circuit’s ruling.

“I am pleased that the Fifth Circuit correctly upheld Texas’s vote-by-mail laws, and I commend the court for concluding that Texas’s decision to allow elderly voters to vote by mail does not violate the 26th Amendment. We will continue to protect the integrity of Texas elections and uphold the rule of law,” Paxton said.

This comes as Democrats and Republicans in Texas and across the country lock horns over the issue of expanding mail-in voting amid the CCP virus pandemic.

President Donald Trump and Republicans have rebuked the idea of the blanket expansion of mail-in voting, citing concerns of voter fraud. Meanwhile, Democrats argue that mail-in voting options are necessary in order to comply with public health recommendations to reduce gatherings due to the pandemic.