For the first time since incumbent president Richard Nixon soundly defeated Sen. George McGovern in 1972, I will not be going to the polls this November to cast my vote in a presidential election.
This year, I will be exercising my right as a Texas resident 65 years or older to vote by mail. I mailed my application on Friday and, once I receive my ballot, I’ll complete it, drop it in the mail, and then light a candle that the vote is not intentionally lost. This unwitnessed act of voting will lack the public moment, the sense of civic obligation fulfilled, that entering a voting poll site offers.
Entering the polls on Election Day is a family tradition dating back decades that my wife, Monika, and I imparted to our own two sons at an early age, so it’s difficult to forgo that tradition. Vote-by-mail, however, is prudent in the age of pandemic. It’s also an act of resistance against a sitting president and his party’s allies working to restrict the vote-by-mail option.
Every voter ought to have the right to vote by mail, especially this year with people at serious risk of contracting or spreading an uncontrolled virus that so far has taken the lives of at least 188,000 Americans, most of them of voting age.
The charge by President Trump, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (who remains under criminal indictment on charges of securities fraud), and the Republican Party is that voting by mail is susceptible to systematic cheating. It’s a charge unsupported by any evidence. Gov. Greg Abbott deserves credit for extending the early voting period by six days but criticism for his failure to mandate mandatory mask use at the polls.
Ask any public health professional and they will tell you statewide mask requirements and expanded voting by mail would reduce the likely spread of coronavirus. Instead, Texans once again will take their chances.
For anyone genuinely worried about the election’s legitimacy, the evidence suggests Russian manipulation is a greater threat. Voter fraud exists only in isolated instances; no one has been able to document a national or statewide election outcome affected by voter fraud in recent decades.
As I first wrote in a March column after falling ill myself with COVID-19, every Texan should have the right to register to vote online and to vote by mail, a right previously extended to all voters in more than 30 states. Three states (Oregon, Washington, and Colorado) conduct elections exclusively by mail. As has been repeatedly noted, President Trump himself votes by mail, apparently with little concern that his vote will be fraudulently misappropriated.
This election, 34 states are allowing vote-by-mail due to the pandemic or without an excuse, according to the New York Times. Nine states and Washington, D.C., are actively mailing ballots to all registered voters. Nine states will mail all voters a form to request an absentee ballot if they wish to have one. Texas is one of seven states where a voter needs a reason beyond the virus to vote by mail. The others are Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Indiana, and New York.
Voting by mail in Texas continues to be restricted to people 65 and older, the disabled, people who will be outside the county on Election Day and the early voting period, and people in jail who are not convicted felons.
“COVID-19 is exposing the fault lines in the foundation of Texas’ democracy,” Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, told me in March. “By requiring a wet signature for voter registration, Texas is disenfranchising our eligible voters every day they self-isolate. Our state leaders must modernize our voter registration system now to offer an online option to register to vote for November’s election.
“If we are to protect the right to vote, we must also expand access to vote by mail options immediately,” Galloway said. “Every voter should have the option to cast their ballot from the safety of their homes. We must begin planning for these changes now.”
Move Texas has launched an online petition drive calling on Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders to enact the changes. To date, more than 25,000 registered voters have signed, according to Galloway.
Some readers who support President Trump’s reelection will label this column as partisan, but it isn’t. My stance of registering to vote online and universal right to vote by mail is shared by a clear majority of voters in every credible poll. A single political party is blocking implementation of those changes and thus preventing wider participation in our democracy. Democratic Party leaders have been uniformly in favor of expanding voting by mail in Texas and across the country.
It would be no different, and no more partisan, of me to argue that elected officials should accept the inevitable use of smartphones to register to vote and to vote. The only difference here is that voting by mail is an already proven and established mechanism.
I know of no Texan more civically engaged than Charles Butt, chairman and CEO of H-E-B, and I can think of no San Antonio-based company that has done more to safeguard people from the spread of coronavirus or to serve those affected by the pandemic. H-E-B’s own employees have paid a high price to deliver that service.
Butt filed a letter to the Texas Supreme Court justices on Wednesday as an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief, in the pending case involving efforts by Harris County election officials to offer all registered voters applications for absentee voting. Paxton opposes that plan and the court has issued a temporary stay while it considers the case on appeal. The brief was filed by Butt’s San Antonio attorney, Wallace Jefferson, the court’s former chief justice.
You can read the Butt letter here.
“It’s always been my impression that the more people who vote, the stronger our democracy will be,” Butt wrote in his letter. “My knowledge of the judicial world is not deep, but it seems to me that it is important for both state and federal courts to retain their non-partisan reputation, which today seems to be in jeopardy.”
Eligible voters have until Oct. 23 to apply for a mail-ballot.
This column has been updated to correctly describe the current requirements for voting by mail in Texas.