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County Clerk scales back mail ballot application sendout for now

Seems like a wise tactical move.

Chris Hollins

The Harris County clerk is holding off his plan to send ballot applications to every registered voter in Harris County.

County Clerk Chris Hollins said for now he is going to send ballot applications to everyone 65 and older.

Hollis added he will wait for the lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to work its way through the court to see if he can send ballot applications to other people in the county.

Hollis also said he tried to discuss this with the Texas Secretary of State but a discussion did not take place. Then Paxton filed his lawsuit on Monday, according to a report from the Texas Tribune.

See here for the background. Sending an application to all the 65-and-over voters is what Clerk Hollins did for the primary runoffs, and no one raised a fuss about it. It seems clear that Hollins has the law on his side, as confirmed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht in a recent chat with the Chron editorial board, but politics plays a role as well, and one could argue that turning down the heat a bit is in Hollins’ best interests. One could also argue that getting the state to do something stupid isn’t a bad idea either, but I’ll set that debate aside for now. For now, we wait for some action in the courtroom. The Chron and the Press have more.

(On a side note, Bexar County will be sending vote by mail applications to all of its 65-and-over voters as well. As I said before, this sort of thing should be the norm going forward.)

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  1. Kibitzer Curiae says:

    Supreme Judicial Branch of the Texas GOP Issues Stay Order against Chris Hollins, but does not find it necessary to inform the public about its content.

    Emergency Stay Granted in what part?

    No hotlink. Order not even posted on the docket sheet for the case as of 1PM.

    The response in opposition to emergency relief, efiled yesterday (9/1/2020), was struck (and not posted on the docket) because the attached exhibits were not bookmarked. Gee, those bookmarks must be really vital to the proper functioning of the judiciary. Great excuse to deny the media and the public their constitutional right to know what the other side has to say in the dispute.

    There used to be the idea of an adversary system. With one-party control of the high court in a hotly contested election season, that’s apparently a thing of the past.

    Orders Pronounced September 2, 2020




    relators’ emergency motion for temporary relief granted in part
    stay order issued

    [Note: The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before this Court.]

  2. September 2, 2020

    Dear Chief Justice Hecht and members of the Supreme Court of Texas,

    I send my best wishes to you with my thanks for your service to the State.
    As you likely know, when the Coronavirus began to impact Texas, our company and many other retailers expanded their programs of allowing pickup of online orders at the store. In addition, our home delivery offerings were expanded. A significant portion of our sales are now transacted without the customer having to interact face-to-face with another individual.

    We’ve worked hard to give customers opportunities to buy their food in the safest way. In light of this, I also support efforts to allow voting by mail, which is the safest means for people to exercise this vital right during this time. The plan announced by the Honorable Chris Hollins, Harris County Clerk, to send applications for mail-in ballots to registered voters in Harris County is permissible under the Election Code and facilitates the execution of the constitutional right to vote.

    Texas requires an excuse to vote absentee but, as your Court has recently held, does not permit election officials to second-guess a voter’s exercise of that option. Thus, Clerk Hollins’s effort to make absentee ballots widely available trusts voters, protecting those who are vulnerable from unnecessary exposure in this new Covid world in which we’re living.

    It’s always been my impression that the more people who vote, the stronger our democracy will be.

    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.

    Based on our experience at H-E-B, many people, including those of all ages, are nervous about contracting the virus. By extension, in my opinion, many would be anxious about voting in person. Clerk Hollins has reasonably given these voters a chance to guard against perilous exposure in a manner consistent with this Court’s opinion and the Election Code.

    Thank you for considering this view.

    All good wishes to you.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Charles Butt

  3. Kibitzer Curiae says:

    LATE-NIGHT UPDATE on In re Hotze et al (vs. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins),
    No. 20-0671. The online docket is now populated with information and hotlinks.

    STORY LINE: How the partisan sausage gets made in the SCOTX as needed.

    09/02/2020 Stay Order issued “The Emergency Motion for
    Temporary Relief is GRANTED in part. In conformance with the Rule 11 agreement in State of Texas v. Hollins (No. 2020-52383, 61st Judicial District Court, Harris County), Real Party in Interest Hollins is ordered to refrain from sending applications to vote by mail to registered voters under the age of 65 who have not requested them until five days after a temporary injunction ruling in State of Texas v. Hollins. The Real Party in Interest should inform the Court of any developments in State of Texas v. Hollins that may affect this order. [ PDF/98 KB ] Notice”

    THE SUPREME GIST: Having previously found a LACK of jurisdiction in the Texas GOP mandamus concerning its Convention at the GRB Convention Center in Houston (except for Justice Devine, who dissented), the Court has now discovered a PRESENCE of jurisdiction to enforce a rule 11 agreement between parties not currently before, doing so on special pleadings of a Republican activist, the Republican Party of Texas, and a Republican candidate for a judgeship, none of whom is a party to the Rule 11 Agreement at issue.

    Question raised: How does any of these parties have standing to enforce the Rule 11?

    The State (through the AG) suing Hollins in Harris County District Court on ultra-vires allegations is only a prospective amicus curiae here, according to an ex parte email from the SG to the Clerk Hawthorne, which Clerk Hawthorne has — to his credit — posted on the docket.

    What we now have, voila, is SCOTX relief ex machina:

    (1) Ad hoc precedent for the Texas Supreme Court enforcing a Rule 11 agreement from a different case in a different court (a trial court, no less), transforming a voluntarily assumed obligation to refrain from a specific action into a supreme court injunction order (in the guise of interim mandamus relief), all with no indication that a breach of the Rule 11 Agreement has actually occurred, or that it couldn’t be addressed by the lower court, if it had occurred.

    (2) Ad hoc precedent for the Texas Supreme Court taking it upon itself to enforce a rule 11 agreement between a different set of parties than those before it in the case at hand, with no third-party beneficiary designation for Steven Hotze or the Republican Party in the case-extrinsic rule 11 agreement.

    (3) Supreme Court transforming the Respondent in a direct mandamus under the Election Code (Section 273.061) into a “real party of interest” and issuing a stay order against the real party in interest, rather than the Respondent.

    (4) Supreme Court using mandamus power to enjoin the targeted County Clerk (from doing something he has already agreed not to do), rather than compel him to perform a duty imposed by law.

    (5) New precedent for the Supreme Court enforcing a Rule 11 agreement between parties who are not before it through the instrumentality of an Election Code Mandamus, contra the same Court’s rejection of jurisdiction in In re Republican Party. No 20-0525 (July 13, 2020) (contractual obligation not a duty imposed by law, ergo not a proper basis for invoking original supreme court jurisdiction under Section § 273.061 of the Election Code).

    In short, a whole battery of novel legal developments under the rubric of Covid & Hotze jurisprudence. Might make good fodder for a law review article. Or at least a grad student term paper.

    Statutory basis for Election Code Mandamus in Appellate Courts:

    Section 273.061 of the Election Code gives the Court jurisdiction to “issue a writ of mandamus to compel the performance of any duty imposed by law in connection with the holding of an election or a political party convention, regardless of whether the person responsible for performing the duty is a public officer.” TEX. ELEC. CODE § 273.061.