For a second time, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is warning local officials not to mislead the public about the state’s voting laws by wrongly advising that voters can apply for a mail ballot, claiming fear of the coronavirus as a “disability.”

Under Texas law, only voters who are 65 or older, disabled, in jail, or outside their home county during an election are eligible to vote by mail—a process far more vulnerable to fraud and abuse than in-person voting.

In a guidance letter sent today to Texas county judges and election officials, Paxton says voters may not claim disability based on fears of contracting COVID-19 to obtain a mail-in ballot, and he cautions that advising voters otherwise could subject officials to criminal penalties.

Paxton issued a similar warning on May 1.

Paxton’s warnings come amid two lawsuits filed by the Texas Democrat Party, in state and federal courts, aimed at forcing the state to allow everyone to vote by mail.

Today’s guidance is reinforced by the Texas Supreme Court’s recent ruling that “a lack of immunity to COVID-19 is not itself a ‘physical condition’ that renders a voter eligible to vote by mail” under the state’s voting laws.

Paxton said the decision “ended any dispute” about whether a lack of immunity or resulting fear of contracting the virus constitutes a “disability” under Texas Election Code.

The ruling also ended Texas Democrats’ hopes of winning their state-court lawsuit to expand mail voting, which they dropped earlier this week.

Democrats are still pursuing a federal lawsuit to force universal vote-by-mail, claiming limits on mail voting are unconstitutional.

But today’s letter cites last week’s 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said the state is likely to prevail in that case too. The court said the emergence of the coronavirus “has not suddenly obligated Texas to do what the Constitution has never been interpreted to command, which is to give everyone the right to vote by mail.”

Paxton also reminded officials again that it’s against the law to advise for voters to apply for a ballot by mail for reasons not authorized by the Election Code:

“Section 84.0041 of the Election Code prohibits any person from deliberately misleading a voter about the meaning of “disability”—such as by suggesting that a voter may merely “check the disability box” for any reason—and thereby causing the voter to submit false information on an application for ballot by mail. Similarly, Section 276.013 prohibits a person from causing a voter to obtain a ballot “under false pretenses,” or from causing an intentionally misleading statement on an application for ballot by mail.”

He warned such activity could subject them to “criminal sanctions.”

Paxton’s full letter can be read here.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.