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EDITORIAL: Voting rights should include your safety

EDITORIAL: Voting rights should include your safety

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Given our realization over time that the Texas Supreme Court is less an honest interpreter of law and more a judicial farce subservient to the whims of partisan and big-money cronyism, the high court will likely go through the motions when arguments are raised today about vote-by-mail initiatives. Groups making these arguments, including the League of Women Voters of Texas, see these as a way to prevent citizens from risking their lives by standing in long polling lines while a highly contagious virus gains ground through contempt for or indifference to social-distancing guidelines.

A Harris poll last month found 72 percent of Americans believe 2020 elections should be conducted by mail ballot, a view echoed by a Pew Research Center poll where 63 percent of surveyed registered voters said that they would feel uncomfortable voting in person. And while many folks across Texas — including some in McLennan County — seem to be relaxing social-distancing and face-covering protocols amid statistics showing fewer hospitalizations for COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns a second wave of coronavirus this fall could prove “even more devastating,” coinciding with flu season.

Republicans argue that voting by mail invites fraud, yet hard evidence is not only underwhelming but statistically negligible. And when one applies to this the logic so often and so loudly raised against Second Amendment restrictions — that cherished gun rights should not be abridged or suppressed because of isolated lawbreakers — one is left with few valid objections to voting by mail, at least in a pandemic that has claimed more than 90,000 U.S. lives and for which no treatment and no vaccine exist. If this state is truly respectful of life and liberty as it claims, here’s one instance where state leadership can prove it.

You can legally vote by mail if you’re 65 or older; disabled; out of the county during voting periods; or confined to jail but otherwise eligible. Plaintiffs in this case argue that a person should be able to qualify for a mail ballot under the disability qualification, citing Section 82.002 of the Texas Election Code: “A qualified voter is eligible for early voting by mail if the voter has a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.”

This newspaper ordinarily shares concerns about the potential for fraud in voting by mail, but the governor has declared Texas a disaster because of COVID-19, which means extraordinary measures are in order. Agreeing to vote-by-mail protocols as a temporary pandemic recourse now would allow the state time to set effective measures to combat fraud, including comparison of ballot signatures with voter registration forms or unique bar codes tying voters with ballots. With a federal judge Tuesday mandating that all Texas voters regardless of age qualify for a mail-in ballot during the pandemic, America will soon learn whether voting your conscience in Texas means betting your life.

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