“Public officials shall not advise voters who lack a qualifying sickness or physical condition to vote by mail in response to COVID-19,” said Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton (R) in a letter to county judges and county election officials (PDF). Further, third parties advising voters to apply for a ballot by mail out of fear of contracting COVID-19 without a qualifying disability “could subject those third parties to criminal sanctions.”

The letter follows District Judge Tim Sulak’s (D) decision last month to grant a temporary injunction enjoining Travis Co. Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir from “rejecting any mail ballot applications received from registered voters who use the disability category of eligibility as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The state immediately appealed that decision to the Third Court of Appeals. Paxton said Sulak’s injunction is stayed during the appeal.

Paxton’s argued that fear of contracting COVID-19 is an “emotional condition and not a physical condition” under Sec. 82.002, Election Code and this “not, by itself, sufficient to meet the definition of disability for purposes of eligibility to receive a ballot by mail.” In his ruling, Sulak determined it was “reasonable to conclude that voting in person while the virus that causes COVID-19 is still in general circulation presents a likelihood of injuring [voters’] health, and any voters without established immunity meet the plain language definition of disability.” Paxton’s letter does not appear to address this reasoning.

Appellate briefs in the case are due by May 29.

SD27: The Texas State Teachers Assoc. PAC, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas PAC and the Texas Freedom Network PAC endorsed challenger Sara Stapleton-Barrera in the Democratic runoff over Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville). TSTA PAC endorsed State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) in the primary. The other two groups made no primary endorsement.

New Poll, Same Tight Race

A new Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler poll finds significant partisan differences in voters’ reactions to the coronavirus pandemic and a statistical dead heat in the presidential race.

Asked if coronavirus was “a major health threat,” 84% of Democrats strongly agreed, compared to 52% of Republicans. Nearly half of Republicans agreed (26%) or strongly agreed (23%) that the virus’s threat “has been blown out of proportion” compared to 25% of Democrats (12% agreeing, 13% strongly). A little over four out of five Republicans agreed (23%) or strongly agreed (58%) that “China is responsible” for the pandemic compared to 49% of Democrats (21% agreeing, 28% strongly).

Partisan differences continued when voters were asked a series of election policy questions:

  • Comfort in voting in person for the July runoff: Republicans 65% (42% “extremely” comfortable), Democrats 37% (18% extremely).
  • Preferred method of voting If all voters could apply for a ballot by mail: 42% of Republicans would vote early in person (26% would vote by mail), 50% of Democrats would vote by mail (27% would vote early in person).
  • Strongly support revising election laws to allow any voter to vote by mail: 55% of Democrats, 23% of Republicans.

Voters of both parties who opposed expanding vote-by-mail eligibility overwhelmingly cited “threats of voter fraud” as the reason (97% of Republicans, 73% of Democrats).

Interestingly, Democrats and Republicans were almost equally favorable toward local leaders’ handling of the pandemic: 68% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans approved or strongly approved, and 16% of each disapproved or strongly disapproved. Partisan differences impacted their respective views of Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) handling of the pandemic. His favorability rating among Republicans was 86/6 compared to 46/40 among Democrats. Likewise, President Trump’s handling received a favorability rating of 78/11 among Republicans and 13/75 among Democrats.

President Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden are tied, 43%-43%. Biden leads among “independents,” 43%-28%, with 14% saying they would vote for “other” and 15% indicating they were undecided.

In the U.S. Senate race, the poll shows M.J. Hegar leading Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), 32%-16%, among respondents who said they would vote in the Democratic runoff, but 44% remained undecided and 7% would vote for “other,” which is not an option. Looking ahead to the general election, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R) leads Hegar, 37%-24%, and West, 35%-24%, with 34% undecided in either horse race.

The poll of 1,183 registered voters was in the field April 18-27 over the phone and online in English and Spanish. The poll has a stated margin of error of ±2.85% for the full sample and ±4.64% for Democratic primary voters.

Recent Presidential Polls

  • Biden 47, Trump 46 – Public Policy Polling (April)
  • Trump 49, Biden 44 – UT/Texas Tribune (April)
  • Trump 45, Biden 44 – DMN/UT-Tyler (March)
  • Trump 46, Biden 43 – Univision/Univ. of Houston (February)
  • Biden 48, Trump 47 – CNN/SSRS (February)
  • Trump 47, Biden 43 – UT/Texas Tribune (February)
  • Trump 44, Biden 42 – DMN/UT-Tyler (February)
  • Trump 51, Biden 46 – Texas Lyceum (January)
  • Trump 48, Biden 47 – CNN/SSRS (December 2019)
  • Trump 45, Biden 39 – DMN/UT-Tyler (November 2019)
  • Trump 46, Biden 39 – UT/Texas Tribune (November 2019)

Links go to our coverage or commentary on the polls.

©2020 Texas Election Source LLC