Mike Siegel for Congress -- in the May runoff
Pritesh Gandhi, MD for Congress -- in the May runoff
MJ Hegar for Senate
• Texas: The NAACP and other civil rights advocates in conjunction with national Democrats have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to expand access to absentee mail voting. Plaintiffs request that the court order the state to prepay the cost of postage, extend the deadline by which ballots that have been postmarked by Election Day must be received by officials from one day after Election Day to no later than the date that election officials canvass the votes, prevent the state from using arbitrary standards to reject absentee ballots for supposedly non-matching signatures without giving voters a chance to fix the problem, and allow a third party to collect and turn in completed absentee ballots.
Separate lawsuits (one at the state level and one at the federal level) that had been previously filed are challenging Texas' requirement that voters under age 65 provide a specific excuse to be able to vote absentee by mail. The state-level case saw a lower court block officials from enforcing the requirement for the July 14 primary runoff, although Republicans are appealing that ruling.
Bottom line: Democrats can shrink Republicans’ majority on the Texas Supreme Court to one seat
Composition: 9 Republicans
2020 elections: 4 seats up (partisan)
Republican Justice Jeffrey Boyd, appointed in 2012 by ex-Gov. Rick Perry (R), faces Democratic Dallas County District Court Judge Staci Williams
Republican Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, appointed in 2013 by ex-Gov. Rick Perry (R), faces Democratic Travis County District Court Judge Amy Clark Meachum
Republican Justice Brett Busby, appointed in 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), faces Democratic Court of Appeals Judge Gisela Triana
Republican Justice Jane Bland, appointed in 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), faces Democratic attorney Kathy Cheng
While Democrats can’t gain control over the Texas Supreme Court this fall, they can do a lot of damage: If they run the table, the GOP’s majority would shrink from 9-0 to just 5-4. That would put them in position to flip the court as soon as 2022.
Winning a majority in Texas would be critical for stopping Republican gerrymandering. Even if the GOP retains control over redistricting following the 2020 census, the courts could step in after the fact to order fairer lines be drawn. The impact could be huge: Texas is poised to gain three seats in Congress, giving it 39 in total. More equitable maps could allow Democrats to gain a number of seats. The same would be true for the legislature, particularly given the trends that are turning the state blue.
• Texas: Texas Democrats have filed a second lawsuit, this time in federal court, asking that a judge loosen the requirements for requesting an absentee ballot. This suit argues that the state's refusal to allow most voters under the age of 65 to vote by mail violates their rights under the Constitution. The earlier case, which was brought in a state court, makes similar arguments in regard to state law. A hearing is scheduled in the state case for April 15.
• Texas: Texas' secretary of state's office has taken a small step toward expanding access to mail voting by advising county election officials that voters may request an absentee ballot if they have any condition that precludes them from voting in-person "without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health." If officials are lenient, that provision of law could allow voters concerned about the coronavirus to obtain absentee ballots. Texas Democrats filed a lawsuit last month asking that all voters be allowed to vote absentee for this reason.
The office's new letter, from Director of Elections Keith Ingram, also suggests that county officials seek court orders to allow expanded mail voting options for "those affected by quarantines." However, as the Houston Chronicle notes, the secretary of state's guidance is not mandatory, only advisory.
• Texas: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has postponed Texas' May 26 runoffs until July 14, when voters will pick nominees in a number of high-profile congressional races, among others. Abbott's order did not address the question of expanding voting by mail, which Democrats in the legislature are pushing for but which Republicans oppose. The state Democratic Party has gone to court seeking that all voters be allowed to cast absentee ballots due to the coronavirus; currently, Texas law requires an excuse to vote absentee.
• Texas: The plaintiffs challenging Texas' lack of an online voter registration system for those updating the address on their driver's license online have filed a new lawsuit after their first effort prevailed at the district court level but was overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appeals court had held that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they subsequently were able to re-register by other means and were therefore no longer harmed by the system by the time they filed their suit. Plaintiffs had unable to update their registrations online even though voters updating their licenses in person or by mail are given the opportunity to register, which the district court agreed was a violation of federal law.
To avoid having their case dismissed for lack of standing, these newest plaintiffs (one of whom participated in the first case) have not updated their registrations after moving. The plaintiffs do not plan to remain unregistered throughout the duration of their case, though, particularly with Texas' primaries approaching on March 3.
One of the attorneys for the plaintiffs told the Texas Tribune that she does not believe the 5th Circuit's decision means "that someone has to remain unregistered through the course of the lawsuit" because it "would be in effect telling someone that in order to vindicate their most important constitutional right, they would have to sacrifice that right for years and years."
In a separate effort, Democratic Party organizations are seeking to intervene in and revive the original lawsuit as a way to avoid the possibly lengthy time needed for the newer suit to succeed.
Texas does not permit voters to register online, but the website Vote.org allows applicants to fill out a registration form and then (on its end) automatically prints it and mails it to local election officials. However, the GOP-run secretary of state's office rejected thousands of such applications shortly before the registration deadline in 2018 on the grounds that the signatures were transmitted electronically rather than signed with pen on paper.
Democrats are arguing that these rejections violate both state and federal law. They noted that the secretary of state already allows electronic signatures if they're part of applications when voters register in-person through the state's driver's licensing agency. Texas Republicans have long resisted enacting online registration, making the Lone Star State just one of a handful that don't offer the option. However, if Democrats prevail in this lawsuit, de facto online registration could become an option for thousands of voters through third-party services like Vote.org.
• Texas: State and national Democratic Party organizations have filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit over Texas' refusal to offer online voter registration when citizens update their driver's license address online, even though the state provides an opportunity to register for those who update their licenses in person or by mail.
In November, a panel on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court ruling that deemed this a violation of federal law, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had subsequently registered successfully and were no longer harmed by the system.
The appeals court, however, didn't rule on the underlying merits of the law and sent the case back to the lower court. The Democratic groups now seeking to intervene are hoping to resolve the standing issue by arguing that their organizations represent members who would likely be harmed by Texas' current system.