Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

OC Dem leader backs mail-in voting

Republicans have resisted and attacked calls to expand the use of voting by mail for people who say they fear crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, "this is a scam," adding it's laughable for people under 65 to fear voting in person.

The Texas Supreme Court backed them up, ruling last week that a lack of immunity to the new coronavirus is not by itself a disability and does not meet the state's qualifications for voting by mail.

The Orange County Democratic Party chairman disagrees.

"There's nothing wrong with any of it," John Cash "Jack" Smith said Monday night.

"It increases the turnout."

Texas will hold a runoff for both parties July 14, with Democrats picking candidates for U.S. Senator and Railroad Commission and local Republicans picking a candidate for an appellate judgeship.

Turnout is expected to be light overall.

Complaints against mail-in voting were first raised by President Donald Trump, who claimed the 2016 election was rigged before it happened and is now making similar claims about 2020.

Republicans have claimed widespread voter fraud for years and have been, in turn, accused of voter suppression.

But, according to the Heritage Foundation, a "trusted conservative leader" according to its advertising, Texas has convicted only seven people for voter fraud since 2016.

Only two people were sentenced to time behind bars and only two cases involved mail-in ballots, a total of seven.

Sentences for the seven totaled nine years, with eight of those going to non-citizen Rosa Maria Ortega, who illegally voted in 2014 and 2012. Convicted in 2017, she faces deportation after serving her sentence.

Like Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General William Barr, Texas' top three Republicans, Gov. Greg Abbott, Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton have all voted by mail-in ballot in the past.

Smith, a longtime Orange attorney, points out that Texas is already the biggest mail-in ballot state in the U.S., with every citizen 65 years of age and older able to vote by mail just by filling out a request form available on line or in person and returning it to the County Elections Office.

"There's never been a question in Texas over the efficacy and honesty of mail-in ballots," Smith said.

The local party chair points out that another lawsuit filed by the Democrats with the Federal Fifth District Court of Appeals has not yet been heard.

"It's not over by a long shot," Smith said.

Additionally, a reading of the Texas Supreme Court opinion by some points out that it says fear of the killer disease is "without more, not a 'disability' as defined by the Election Code."

In his argument, Paxton contended a disability means a voter can't physically get to a polling location. However, Texas Election Code says a sickness falls under the umbrella of disability.

It defines disability as a "sickness or physical condition" that prevents a voter from appearing in person without the risk of "injuring the voter's health."

In Austin, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir reported her office has received 17,000 requests for mail-in ballots for the July runoff election, approximately 16,000 more than a typical runoff election.

She said the demand for mail-in ballots tells her voters are concerned about the potential health impacts of voting in-person during the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is now up to the voter," DeBeauvoir said, "and if they tell us on this application form that they have a disability that's going to potentially injure their health they are absolutely eligible to vote ballot by mail."

The Supreme Court also clarified that it is not the responsibility of county clerks to investigate a disability claim on a mail-in ballot request form.

When voters cite disability to request a mail-in ballot, they're not required to say what the disability is. The voters simply check a box on the application form, and, if their application is properly filled out, local officials are supposed to send a ballot.

Deadline for applying for a mail-in ballot for the July 14 primary is July 2.

Smith says he will be watching the Texas Democratic Virtual Convention online this week. And after the runoff, he'll work to get out the Democrat vote in Orange County for November's Presidential Election, a vote that has run 80-20 Republican in recent elections.

"I still think the Republicans will carry Texas in the general election," he said. "But I think the Democrats are doing the right thing, laying back and letting him [Trump] do his thing.

"This could be a real watershed elections if the Democrats get a blowout and take the Senate. Throughout American history, incumbents just don't survive a bad economy."


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