Attorney General Becerra Joins Legal Effort to Protect Voter Rights and Health During COVID-19
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general in an amicus brief in support of efforts out of Harris County, Texas to protect voter rights and health during COVID-19 by sending vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter in the county. In the friend-of-the-court brief in Texas v. Hollins, the coalition urges the court to deny a request to block the county’s efforts and asserts that state and local jurisdictions have a critical need for flexibility to ensure that the pandemic does not disrupt their residents’ ability to safely participate in the upcoming presidential election.
“This year and for decades, states and local jurisdictions across the country have shown that voting by mail is safe and effective,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Especially during this pandemic, voting by mail makes sense. The people of Harris County — like voters everywhere — have a right to cast their vote in November and to do it safely.”
On August 25, 2020, the Harris County Clerk gave notice to the public that they would provide vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter in the county. Days later, officials from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office sought to block the effort, citing concerns that the county’s action would induce voter fraud. These claims came despite the fact that the county had prepared a mailer to accompany the applications that clearly outlined who is eligible to vote by mail in Texas. Based on a national survey of voter engagement, election experts project that voter turnout in the general election this November could be the highest in over a century. At the same time, according to the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of registered voters expect to face difficulties casting a ballot in light of the coronavirus. Despite this reality, Harris County’s effort aimed at addressing some of those concerns is now being challenged before the Texas Supreme Court after both the trial and appellate courts denied earlier requests to block the county’s voter engagement efforts.
In the amicus brief, the coalition reiterates basic, non-partisan facts, including that:
- Local election officials have a responsibility to protect voter participation and voter safety: The Supreme Court has recognized that states have both a major role to play in election administration and a primary responsibility to protect the health and safety of their residents. The nuts and bolts of most election administration, however, remain local. Because of COVID-19, states and local election officials like those in Harris County require flexibility, within legal requirements set by the state, to preserve their residents’ access to voting while protecting the health and safety of their communities. The county’s plan to mail ballot applications to registered voters is consistent with its duties under Texas law and similar policies adopted by state and local election administrators across the United States.
- No evidence exists that sending vote-by-mail applications to voters results in widespread fraud: Since 2000, over 250 million people in all 50 states have voted using mail-in ballots, yet officials at the state and federal level have consistently found no evidence of widespread fraud. There is also no evidence of widespread fraud where states and local election officials mail ballot applications, as is the case with Harris County. Further, the county’s mailer specifically outlines the categories of voters who are eligible to vote by mail.
The State of California has taken significant steps to protect the rights of voters and ensure they can vote safely and securely. In California, county election officials are required to process and count vote-by-mail ballots that are postmarked on or before election day and arrive no later than 17 days after the election. Further, as a result of Assembly Bill 860, every registered voter in California will receive a vote-by-mail ballot in the general election. More information about registering to vote or checking your registration status is available on the California Secretary of State’s website at https://www.vote.ca.gov/.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the voting rights of people in California and across the country. Earlier this month, the Attorney General stepped up the legal pressure against the Trump Administration to protect the U.S. Postal Service. Last month, Attorney General Becerra filed an amicus brief in support of a challenge to a Florida law attempting to roll back voting rights. In July, he filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s latest attack on a complete, accurate census count, which determines Congressional representation and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds. In May, the Attorney General filed an amicus brief in support of a felon re-enfranchisement effort in North Carolina. Ahead of the 2018 midterm election, Attorney General Becerra reminded voters of their rights under the California Voter Bill of Rights. In 2017, the Attorney General pushed back against extreme partisan gerrymandering in a friend-of-the-court brief filed before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.
A copy of the amicus brief is available here.