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KSAT Explains: Controversy over mail-in voting in Texas during coronavirus pandemic

Episode 2 focuses on battle brewing in Texas over mail-in voting during COVID-19

SAN ANTONIO – A battle has been brewing in Texas over how elections should be done during a pandemic.

What’s safe and what’s the risk for people, not only when it comes to your health, but to your vote.

We answered some of the biggest questions about mail-in voting in the newest episode of KSAT Explains.

How does mail-in voting work in Texas?

Under current Texas Election Code, anyone can apply to vote by mail, but applicants have to list a reason. To be eligible to vote early by mail in Texas, you must:

• Be 65 years or older

• Be disabled

• Be out of the county on Election Day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance

• Be confined in jail, but otherwise eligible

The list of pre-approved excuses does not account for the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the arguments for and against mail-in voting?

Supporters say we should all be allowed to drop our votes in the mailbox so we can stay away from crowds and protect our health during the pandemic.

Those who oppose the idea argue that opens the door to voter fraud. There are also concerns mail-in voting favors one party over the other.

We talked with two local political science professors who share what they about know mail in voting through their studies and research.

Is voter fraud a legitimate concern?

Elections experts say widespread voter fraud of any kind involving any method of voting is extremely rare. Here are a few studies to support their claims.

• A 2012 study by investigative journalists found 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud, but this number was out of billions of ballots Americans cast over the course of 12 years.

• About a quarter of American voters, more than 32 million people, voted by mail in 2016 alone. There are also five states that vote almost entirely by mail.

(Vote by mail in US chart.)
(Vote by mail in US chart.)

• A study conducted in 2014 by a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles found only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation out of a billion ballots that were cast. This study focused on types of fraud that voter ID laws would stop.

• The Washington Post reported that a five-year investigation conducted by the George W. Bush administration “turned up virtually no evidence of organized fraud.” That investigation did involve 86 criminal convictions, but many of those are believed to be linked to people misunderstanding eligibility rules or filling out paperwork incorrectly.

Will expanded mail-in voting happen in Texas this year?

Attorney General Ken Paxton and state democrats have been battling this issue in the courts for months.

It’s been a roller coaster ride for both sides with judges and courts ruling in each other’s favor at some point.

We have a timeline of what’s happened and why this could go past the summer and affect the general election in November.

What are the precautions Bexar County is taking to keep local voters healthy?

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen says the county has spent weeks preparing.

• Elections officials will have personal protection equipment, masks and face shields.

• Sneeze guards will be place on qualifying tables.

• Hand sanitizer will be available at all polling sites.

• Voters will also be able to get plastic gloves or pencils.

• Voters will be able to use the eraser as a stylus to avoid contact with voting equipment.

WATCH: Bexar County Elections administrator answers your questions about voting during a pandemic

What is the state of Texas encouraging people to do when voting?

• Self-screen before you go out to vote.

• If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, you may want to consider curbside voting if you are eligible.

• Stay six feet away from others and wear a mask.

• Be prepared to remove your mask if an election judge needs to confirm your identity. Voters can put it back on immediately after they are done.

Bexar County has also removed at about three polling locations due to the coronavirus.

“We normally are at the justice center. We can’t be there because the state supreme court has said that anyone going into a county building or having a hearing, they have to have their temperature checked and they have to wear a mask. And we can do neither of those mandates for a voter,” Callanen said.

Another way to minimize risk or exposure is vote early on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday when the polls usually see less traffic.

“Voters please come with a good attitude and a good frame of mind and we’ll get your voting,” said Ellen Ott, Bexar County elections worker. “It should take less than a minute.”


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