On June 29, the Supreme Court of Texas issued its “Eighteenth Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster.” That’s their title. Their order is a thoughtful, comprehensive compendium of protections for lawyers, litigants, court staff, jurors, witnesses and the public. It acknowledges in dozens of ways the dangers posed by forcing people to meet in person for any legal proceeding during this pandemic.
To drive home this point, the Supreme Court extends deadlines, generally forbids in-person proceedings, and gives judges the right to “take any other reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings to the threat of COVID-19.” Bravo. The court gets it right. We are forbidden from showing up for a live hearing during this “disaster.”
Except if you want to vote.
In this same court’s decision of May 27, overruling a trial judge’s order allowing wider opportunities for mail-in balloting, the Supreme Court points out that elections are the province of the Legislature, not the courts. And, gosh, the Texas definition of “disability” (which includes “sickness or physical condition” posing a “likelihood of injuring the voter’s health”) just isn’t broad enough to encompass people who are at risk of dying from the “COVID-19 State of Disaster.” So although you can’t go to court, or see a judge in person, or be compelled even to testify, you can be compelled to wait for hours to vote during a pandemic.
The reason? We know the reason: Voter suppression. But here are the arguments we hear repeatedly against allowing voting by mail or at distance:
No technology: Really? We are in a modern society, which transfers hundreds of billions of dollars safely over the internet every single day, between people, countries, states, businesses and even governments. Distance technology is reliable, safe and proven. Other states already have mail-in ballots, and more states already require mail-in options for voting.
Voter ID problems: Every one of us already has multiple unique “identifying numbers”: Social Security, school, insurance, driver’s licenses, etc. We could easily get assigned a unique “Voter’s ID” number just for elections. A computer could then know immediately if more than one person used that number.
Rampant fraud: This is the Boogey Man. But Boogey’s got no teeth. In 2012, Loyola law professor Justin Levitt estimated, “Over the previous twelve years, the voting fraud rate was 0.000002%.” He found only 9 instances of specific allegations of voter fraud out of approximately 400 million voters. Yet Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker used unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud to make special voter ID requirements more stringent and difficult. And a statewide poll showed that 39% of Wisconsin voters actually believed there are several thousand fraudulent votes cast at each election. Yet not one claim of voter fraud was substantiated.
Assistance in filling our ballots: What if the college kid fills out everyone’s ballot for them? So what? That’s actually fine if the voter approves of those choices. The kid, of course, would be stealing jobs from the multibillion-dollar political advertising industry, operating with dark money and often propagating false and misleading attack ads. I prefer the kid.
Personally, I thank my Supreme Court for its thoughtful Emergency Order during this State of Disaster. That order states explicitly no one should be required to risk their health to come to court during this pandemic disaster. I remain mystified why those same concerns did not provide the court with sufficient discretion to say that reasonable fear of damaging our health shall provide a basis for expanded mail-in voting.
I simply want to cast a safe ballot. My government should be helping me.