SAN ANTONIO – Voters should be allowed to apply for mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Bexar County Commissioners Court decided on Thursday.
The commissioners unanimously passed a non-binding resolution during the meeting, which stated that voters who fear they could contract COVID-19 at the polls may be able to vote by mail.
The vote came after Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales offered his legal opinion that, under current state law, lack of immunity can qualify as a physical disability.
Hours after the vote, the 14th Court of Appeals upheld a temporary order that would allow voters with coronavirus concerns to qualify for mail-in ballots.
Under Texas election codes, disability is defined as a sickness or physical condition that would prevent a voter from appearing to the polls in person without risk of “injuring the voter’s health.”
Dr. Ruth Berggren, who is a local medical expert on the city’s transition team, said Tuesday that voting in person amid this pandemic is problematic.
“I think that without a major overhaul of the setup it’s going to very hard to [vote in person] safely,” said Berggren.
“You’ve got a virus there’s no cure for, immunity for, vaccine for. I don’t know what is more disabling than that,” Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said before the vote.
But the state of Texas is not interpreting the law the same way. The state is facing multiple challenges in court about Texas’ rules on absentee voting.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday to make a ruling on the issue, arguing that county officials are not applying the law correctly.
The lone republican county commissioner, Kevin Wolff voted in favor of the resolution after offering an amendment to state the resolution is intended to comply with state law. Still, Wolff expressed concerns about the resolution.
“Let’s talk frankly, this non-binding resolution is nothing but political,” Kevin Wolff said. “We are utilizing COVID, right or wrong, for justification to expand the ability to vote by mail.”
It’s unclear when the courts will settle the dispute, but officials will need to move quickly to adapt to the ruling, with elections coming up in July and November.