In the 2-1 ruling, the assenting judges said an earlier ruling by a state district Judge Tim Sulak is to remain in effect while the case works through the appeals process. As a result, voters who lack immunity to COVID-19 can request a mail ballot if they select "disability" as the reason on their application.
Previously, mail ballots were only available to Texans for one of four reasons: the voter is age 65 or older; the voter has a disability; the voter is a resident of Harris County but will not be able to vote in the county during the election; or the voter is in jail but is otherwise eligible to vote.
In a statement, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan praised the ruling.
"The Harris County Attorney’s Office will continue to fight to ensure that voters do not have to risk their health in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote in an election," Ryan said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed by the Texas Democratic Party, is being appealed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has argued the "disability" option to vote by mail should only be available to those with a "physical condition" that relates to "the body as opposed to the mind," and it therefore ought not cover a fear of contracting COVID-19.
In a May 14 statement, Ryan said the case is not about fear of COVID-19 but rather the lack of immunity, which he said falls under the umbrella of a "physical condition," echoing the ruling reached by Sulak.
Harris County Commissioners Court approved an investment of up to $12 million in April for the Harris County Clerk's Office to, among other things, expand the office's ability to provide mail-in ballots for both the July and November elections. The money would help the county provide as many as 2.4 million voters with mail ballots in November.
When a resident applies for a mail ballot under the disability option, they do not have to provide details on the disability, nor do they have to provide proof thereof, said Douglas Ray, a special assistant in the county attorney's office. In a May 13 phone interview, Ray said it was unclear to him how Paxton expected the county to pinpoint ineligible applicants for denial.
The last day to apply for a mail ballot in Texas for the July 14 runoff elections is July 2. More information for voting in Harris County can be found here.