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Texas faith communities advocate for vote-by-mail in November

Earlier last month, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request from Texas Democrats to expedite a case concerning vote-by-mail access. Democrats argued that people shouldn’t have to choose between their right to vote and their health during a pandemic. Photo: pewtrusts.org

Texas News Service

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is one of several states hit hardest by COVID-19, and some faith communities are taking steps to make sure their vulnerable members can vote safely in November.

Josh Houston, advocacy director for the group Texas Impact, said voting by mail is the best option for people age 65 and older or with disabilities. He said the July 14 primary runoff provided a “test run” for vote-by-mail, and the results suggested there are technical issues that need to be fixed.

“This is kind of a real dangerous moment for democracy, this pandemic,” he said. “But Oregon’s been doing this since the year 2000, and they’ve cast more than 100 million ballots and have only 12 cases of fraud, so it seems to be a pretty safe way to do it.”

Texas Impact teamed up with Austin’s University Presbyterian Church to make sure every congregation member 65 and older who wanted a mail-in ballot received one. Volunteers also provided phone assistance to anyone who needed help with the application.

Kendal Gladish, who chairs the church’s Social Witness Committee, said she believes election integrity is important to most seniors, and that’s why many volunteer as poll workers. For most, however, she said, that’s too risky this year.

“I think the pandemic made everybody aware that seniors were going to be at a particular disadvantage,” she said, “and we would find ways to ensure election integrity.”

The primary runoff ballot arrived too late for Bobbie Sanders to submit by mail. She lives in an Austin retirement community and said for those who live in such close quarters, voting by mail is critical to eliminate the possible health risks at congested polling sites.

“When you live in a retirement community, going into a crowded situation, it’s not just for my convenience,” she said. “It’s a real danger to retirement communities.”

On Monday, the National Federation of the Blind of Texas and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities filed a federal lawsuit that claims the Texas mail-in ballot system discriminates against them by limiting their ability to participate independently.

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