EDITORIAL: Suffrage: State should help, not hinder citizens’ ability to cast votes

MGN Online

There’s never a good time to suffer through a pandemic that prompts public stay-home orders. The timing of the current COVID-19 wave, however, couldn’t have been worse, in the middle of political campaigns that many believe could determine our country’s future, both domestically and globally, for decades to come.

Democracy is best served when the greatest number of qualified voters participate in the process. Several county officials agree, and have announced plans to extend early voting periods or allow more people to vote by mail.

Unfortunately, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton doesn’t agree, and as is his habit has filed a lawsuit trying to prevent plans to allow more people to vote by mail.

Cameron County is among those that plan to expand the offsite voting process, and is a specific target of Paxton’s lawsuit. Local runoffs scheduled for July are among the first elections to take place since the viral shutdown, and thus are directly affected by the ongoing legal battle.

Measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus came in the middle of the nation’s heaviest election season, which only comes around every four years. The president is on the ballot as well as all U.S. and state House members and one-third of all Senate seats. Stay-at-home orders halted several states’ presidential primaries. While those orders came after Texas’ primaries, runoff elections were delayed.

With some restrictions being eased, Gov. Abbott recently announced that those runoffs will take place on July 14, with an expanded early-voting period. Mail-in ballots traditionally are reserved for people who can’t physically vote in person. State District Judge Tim Sulak, in response to legal petitions, recently ruled that fear of contracting COVID-19 could be considered a disability and people with such fears can vote by mail. Paxton sued to cancel that ruling, but a panel of the 14th Court of Appeals, in the interest of promoting democracy, let the ruling stand until the issue is resolved.

Paxton has appealed to the state Supreme Court.

It’s worth noting that elections in Texas are the purview of the Secretary of State’s Office, not the attorney general. Secretary of State Ruth Hughs is scheduled to release official dates for finalizing ballots and requesting mail-in packets this week. We trust she will honor the 14th Courts’ ruling and allow for expanded mail-in and early voting.

We also hope the Supreme Court will recognize that extraordinary situations require extraordinary measures, and that democracy is best served by enabling the greatest, not the least, number of qualified voters to cast their ballots.

Recent state and federal announcements allow people to start resuming normal behavior, but many people still prefer to wait until fewer cases of the virus are reported before changing their own behavior. It’s virtually certain that many voters who encounter lines at the polling places will decide not to vote rather than risk infection by joining the crowd.

They should be allowed to vote by other means. Any official who cares about the welfare of the public, and the welfare of democracy, should understand those concerns, and allow expansion of the voting process.