Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins’ plan to send mail ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county far exceeds what the state Election Code allows, the attorney general’s office argued before the Texas Supreme Court Wednesday.
In oral arguments before the high court, Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins said the part of the Election Code requiring clerks to send applications to any registered voters who request them means the distribution of applications is limited to those voters. Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins, he warned, cannot claim powers the Election Code has not expressly granted him.
“If Hollins’s actions are allowed to proceed, it will fundamentally upset the balance of power between states and counties,” Hawkins said. “That conception of power has existed for a century.”
Susan Hays, a private attorney representing Harris County, said the purpose of the Election Code is to make voting safe and accessible to all registered Texans. Requiring applications to be sent to voters who request them is a minimum requirement, she argued, not a limit.
“A statute that says we have to give an application to someone if they ask doesn’t prohibit implicitly giving it to people because we think it’s a good management practice and we think it will make this election safe,” Hays said.
The eight justices in attendance peppered both attorneys with questions during their 20-minute arguments.
Responding to a question about whether the county’s plan would be out of step with how other parts of the state are handling mail ballots, Hays said all 254 counties should send mail ballot applications to registered voters. In an amicus brief, the Dallas County clerk argued the same.
Justice Eva Guzman asked Hays if Harris County’s plan would create more opportunities for voter fraud. Hays said it would not, noting that each ballot is reviewed by a bipartisan committee to ensure the signatures on the ballot and application match.
Justice Brett Busby asked Hawkins if the state’s position that clerks only have power explicitly granted by state law would bar them from developing new, innovative ways of providing services to customers.
“This is going to have ramifcations outside this case,” Busby said. “How do we tread that line to ensure clerks can continue to do, as they see it, good customer service?”
Hawkins said clerks would be fine so long as they are able to connect every action to a “specific grant of power” from the Legislature.
See here for the previous update. I don’t have any new insights, I still think the state’s arguments are crap, but it’s not up to me. All I ask at this point is a quick decision.