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Appeals court strikes down state request to block Harris County mail-in ballot application plan

Despite the apparent legal victory, County Clerk Chris Hollins is still fighting another lawsuit over his plan in the Texas Supreme Court.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — The battle over mail-in ballot applications in Harris County took another twist Friday.

The 14th Court of Appeals shot down Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request to block Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins’ plan to send mail-in ballot applications and eligibility information to all 2.4 million registered voters.

The appeals court affirmed the Sept. 11 ruling of Judge R.K. Sandill in the 127th District Court, which gave Hollins the green light to proceed with his plan.

Paxton sued Hollins on Aug. 31, arguing there's no law that lets county clerks send applications to people that don’t request them. The suit also claimed the clerk’s effort "will create confusion and facilitate fraud."

In their ruling Friday, the appeals court wrote, “The State’s argument is based on mere conjecture; there is, in this record, no proof that voters will intentionally violate the Election Code and no proof that voters will fail to understand the mailer and intentionally commit a felony, or be aided by the election official in doing so.”

Despite the apparent legal victory, Hollins is still fighting another lawsuit over his plan in the Texas Supreme Court. That action was brought on by conservative activist Steven Hotze, judicial candidate Sharon Hemphill, and the Harris County Republican Party.

“Once again, the courts have sided with our efforts to provide timely election information to Harris County voters,” wrote Hollins in a statement following Friday’s appeals court ruling. “We're now calling on the Texas Supreme Court to lift its stay so we can get back to preserving democracy for Harris County. Our office will continue to work within the bounds of the law to ensure that eligible voters can cast their ballots safely and conveniently this November.”

Paxton announced Friday afternoon he will seek full review in the Texas Supreme Court of Hollins' plan. 

Paxton released the following statement:

“Sending millions of mail-in ballot applications, most of which will go to voters who are not eligible for one, will do nothing but create voter confusion and jeopardize the integrity and security of Texas elections. Election officials have a duty to reject mail-in ballot applications from voters who are not eligible to vote by mail. The Harris County Clerk knowingly decided to violate Texas election law and eschewed his duty to protect the integrity of our democratic process. I commend the Texas Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week putting that unlawful plan on hold, and I look forward to demonstrating to the Court how Hollins’ plan violates Texas law.”

During a press conference Friday morning in Harris County, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West called on Hollins to publicly pledge to follow court orders while the legal battle continues.

“If County Clerk Chris Hollins refuses or decides to ignore current law and court orders, Attorney General Paxton needs to order the confiscation, the seizure, of the over 2 million mail-in ballot applications that are sitting in a printing company,” said West.

A spokesperson for Hollins reiterated the clerk’s previous pledges to wait until a final ruling to send out applications to voters under 65.

“The clerk is not going to disobey a court order,” she told KHOU 11.

The Harris County Clerk’s office has mailed out vote-by-mail applications to all voters 65 and older, who are eligible for mail-in ballots under Texas law.

People out of their home county during the entire early voting period and Election Day, those sick or disabled, or those in jail but otherwise eligible can also vote by mail in Texas.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled lack of immunity to COVID-19 can be considered a factor in one’s disability, but not the only factor.

Oct. 23 is the last day to apply for a mail-in ballot.

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