Some of you may recall that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton misused his office two years ago to try to intimidate educators from actively supporting pro-public education candidates in state elections. He failed then, but he is at it again now, on a larger and, in the current pandemic, a potentially deadly scale.
You may not be thinking about voting yet because you have more pressing needs at present: keeping yourself and your family safe from the coronavirus and, if you are an educator, adjusting to distance learning. But because of the coronavirus and its devastating effect on our economy, this election cycle, especially the general election in November, is extremely critical, and that is why Paxton is trying to suppress voter turnout again. And he is not alone.
Partly because of the premature political reopening of Texas and other states, health experts are warning that the pandemic may still be posing a serious health threat in July and even in November, the next times Texans go to the polls. This is why many Texans (63 percent, according to a recent poll) are concerned about voting in person and would like to have the option of voting by mail. But Paxton, with the obvious support of Gov. Greg Abbott and other state Republican leaders, says no and is fighting the mail-in alternative in court.
Many states make wide use of mail-in ballots. But under Texas law, you can get a mail-in ballot only if you are older than 65, are a member of the military, have a medical condition that makes voting in person dangerous or impossible or will be away from your home county during the early voting period and on Election Day.
In a lawsuit brought by the Texas Democratic Party, a state district judge in Austin ruled that the medical condition provision applied to people who were concerned that voting in person would put them at risk of contracting the coronavirus and endangering their health. He said anyone who felt that way could legally apply for a mail-in ballot.
But Paxton is appealing that judge’s order and has warned local election officials of “criminal sanctions” if they advise voters to seek mail-in ballots. As far as Paxton is concerned, let educators and other voters who want to exercise their constitutional right to vote put their health and maybe even their lives at risk.
Paxton is following President Trump’s lead. Trump has said publicly that he expects to lose reelection if too many people vote. If too many people start voting by mail during this pandemic, he said, “all of a sudden you lose elections you think you’re going to win.”
Paxton doesn’t want educators, health care advocates and other Texans who value public services to vote for president or in this year’s legislative races. The legislative winners, when they convene in January, will deal with a huge revenue shortfall because of the millions upon millions of tax dollars being lost during this pandemic.
The lower the voter turnout, the greater the likelihood of electing legislators who will attack education and health care budgets with chain saws, rather than writing new budgets based on serious thought about the future of public education in Texas and the critical needs of millions of Texans. Being an ideologue, Paxton prefers chain saws to serious thought – or serious, capable leadership, in Austin and at the highest level of government.