Harris County officials want to send mail ballot applications to all registered voters

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The battle lines over voting by mail are being drawn in Harris County.

Earlier this week, county commissioners voted to give County Clerk Chris Hollins the funding to send every registered voter in Harris County an application by mail.

The vote drew immediate disapproval from Republican senator Paul Bettencourt who asked the secretary of state for an opinion.

"The vast majority of people on the voter rolls don't qualify for a mail-in ballot," said Bettencourt "They're not 65, not sick, etc. Not only is it a waste of taxpayer money, a big waste of money, I believe it's not actually authorized under the code and the secretary of state letter confirms that."

In a letter sent to Hollins, the SOS said, in part:
"At a minimum, sending an application to every registered voter will confuse voters about their ability to vote by mail. Earlier this year and continuing, there have been a number of lawsuits challenging the fact that Texas law requires a reason to vote by mail. Thus far the challenged law remains the same in spite of these lawsuits. An official application from your office will lead many voters to believe they are allowed to vote by mail, when they do not qualify."

The letter further gives Collins a deadline of Monday, Aug. 31 to comply, or alludes to possible legal actions.

Harris County commissioner Rodney Ellis, who voted to give Hollins the funding to mail out the ballot applications, said the disapproval from the senator is nonsense.

"What I think is that senator Bettencourt needs to focus to get more people to vote for his side, then to suppress the vote," said Ellis. "We are well within the law. You can go online right now and apply for a mail-in ballot. All we're doing is sending people the application."

Hollins released the following statement regarding the issue:
"Providing more information and resources to voters is a good thing, not a bad thing. We have already responded to the Secretary of State's office offering to discuss the matter with them."

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said it is unusual for county clerks in Texas to send mail ballot applications, but attributes that to Texas' fairly bad track record of turning out voters.

"The fact that the county clerk is doing this is certainly progressive and far reaching to voting," said Rottinghaus. "This all takes place in the context that Texas is a very difficult place to vote. There's been all kinds of ways that the ability to vote has been constrained. It's not surprising that a county clerk trying to do something innovative is getting shot down."

As for whether voting by mail benefits Democrats or Republicans, Rottinghaus said his research says it's fairly nonpartisan. It just turns out more voters.

"A rising tide lifts all boats. Both parties benefit. If you make it easier to vote, then people who are republican or democrat are more likely to vote."

As of Friday night, there is not yet a resolution to the matter. If you have not registered to vote, you have until Oct. 5 to do so.

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