Following a remotely conducted hearing, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a lack of immunity to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 does not make a person eligible to vote remotely, settling at the state level the question of whether a voter can request an absentee ballot for reason of COVID-19.

“We agree with the State that a lack of immunity to COVID-19 is not itself a ‘physical condition’ that renders a voter eligible to vote by mail within the meaning” of Sec. 82.002, Election Code, wrote Chief Justice Nathan Hecht for a unanimous majority.

A federal lawsuit on the matter is pending at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The current application form for an absentee ballot contains a check box beside each of four reasons for voting by mail: 65 years of age or older, disability, expected absence from the county and jail confinement. The form does not require a voter to state the nature of the disability, and the county is required to send them a ballot if the form is filled out correctly. State law does not authorize election officials to verify disability claims (or, for that matter, that the voter expects to be out of the county).

“Elected officials have placed in the hands of the voter the determination of whether in-person voting will cause a likelihood of injury due to a physical condition,” Hecht wrote. County election officials “do not have a ministerial duty, reviewable by mandamus, to look beyond the application to vote by mail.”

For that reason, the Court denied the state’s petition for writ of mandamus ordering county election officials from “misapplying election law by ‘misleading the public and providing absentee ballots to unqualified voters.’” The Court concluded election officials would act in good faith to follow the Court’s guidance.

“Election officials have a duty to reject mail-in ballot applications from voters who are not entitled to vote by mail,” said Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton (R) in a statement. “In-person voting is the surest way to maintain the integrity of our elections, prevent voter fraud and guarantee that every voter is who they claim to be.”

Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement that, absent federal judicial intervention, “voters will have to either risk standing in line and contracting the coronavirus or they’ll risk prosecution … for simply requesting a mail-in ballot.”

SD14 special: The Texas Assoc. of Business PAC endorsed Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) for the seat vacated by former Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).

HD26 open: The Texas Assoc. of Business PAC endorsed Jacey Jetton in the Republican runoff over Matthew Morgan.

HD60 open: The Texas Assoc. of Business PAC endorsed Glenn Rogers in the Republican runoff over Jon Francis.

CD4 open: Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) reportedly attended the Hunt Co. Republican Party convention over the weekend and reportedly gave indications that he would seek the seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Heath). Hunt Co. is outside SD30.

Meanwhile, Dallas author and retired Navy Seal Floyd McLendon Jr. updated his campaign committee to indicate he was seeking the seat. McLendon lost the Republican primary for CD32 to Genevieve Collins, 53%-34%.

Harris Co.: Former Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart (R) confirmed he would run in the special election to succeed Diane Trautman (D), who is resigning for health reasons effective May 31. She defeated Stanart, 55%-43%, in the 2018 general election. Former Houston council member Bert Keller (R) and former judicial candidate Michelle Fraga (R) have also indicated they would run for the post. No Democrats have announced plans to run, as far as we can tell.

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