Shanon Hankin, cleans a voter booth after it was used for voting at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center Tuesday,  April 7, 2020 in Madison, Wis.  Voters across the state are ignoring a stay-at-home order in the midst of a pandemic to participate in the state's presidential primary election. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)
How mail-in-voting could change the 2020 election
03:50 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

A federal appeals court has temporarily halted a lower court judge’s ruling that would have allowed all registered voters in Texas afraid of catching the novel coronavirus access to absentee mail-in voting amid the pandemic.

The 5th US Circuit of Appeals on Wednesday halted a Tuesday night decision by federal Judge Fred Biery that expanded the “disability” provision in the state’s vote-by-mail election code to all registered voters who “lack immunity from Covid-19 and fear infection at polling places.”

The stay was issued following an emergency motion from state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican. The freeze will be in place as the appeals court determines whether or not to take up Texas’s appeal of Biery’s ruling. The Texas Democratic Party has until Thursday afternoon to respond to the court’s order.

The ruling is the latest in a legal battle in both federal and state courts between the Texas Democratic Party – which argues that amid the pandemic people shouldn’t have to choose between their right to vote and their health – and the state, which argues that election officials are “misapplying” Texas’ “disability” requirement for absentee mail-in voting.

Texas’ election code defines “disability” as “a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.”

Paxton has steadfastly argued that the expanded application of a “disability” could lead to voter fraud.

Mail-in voting has become a flashpoint in the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats have largely pushed for additional access to mail-in voting as Americans are increasingly nervous about going to the polls in person – states that held in-person primaries during the initial weeks of the outbreak saw drastically reduced voter turnout – but Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have resisted those calls due to fears over voter fraud.

The lawsuit filed by the state Democratic Party is also part of an effort to increase access to mail-in voting to those younger than 65, who currently have to provide an excuse. Texas law requires that those under the age threshold provide an excuse – either a disability or that they will be out of the county or confined – when applying for a mail-in ballot. The “disability” provision will now extend to these younger voters.

The next election date in Texas is July 14, for a primary runoff. The last day to apply for a mail-in ballot is July 2.