Vote-By-Mail is a Racial Justice Issue

June 9, 2020 | Texas

On May 27th, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that lack of immunity to COVID-19 is not a sufficient reason for voters to apply to vote by mail.

One day later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that over 100,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19.

Two days earlier, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd.

These three moments cannot be disentangled – not when state laws suppress the votes of people of color, when COVID-19 disproportionately affects Black people in the United States, and when racial disparities in policing can lead to everything from voter disenfranchisement to death. The Texas Supreme Court’s decision provides yet another example of the institutional racism that undergirds our voting, healthcare, and criminal-legal systems.

As CDF-Texas documented in our 2019 Youth Vote Report, Texas has consistently made voting harder for young Texans and Texans of color through both policies and practices. Voting by mail is one policy that, as currently practiced, discriminates against young Texans, who are predominantly people of color.

Texas has some of the most restrictive vote-by-mail laws in the country. We are one of just 16 states that require voters to provide a reason to apply for a mail-in ballot, and one of just seven with restrictions based on age. During the COVID-19 pandemic, lawsuits have been filed trying to allow all Texas voters to vote safely and securely by mail without compromising their health. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) intervened in one such lawsuit to note that most Texas voters old enough to automatically qualify for a mail-in ballot are white.

There is no reason younger voters and voters of color should be excluded from casting mail-in ballots, which have been in widespread use for decades. Five states – led by both Democratic and Republican officials – conduct their elections entirely by mail, and in 2016, nearly 1 in 4 voters cast their ballots by mail. Multiple states have expanded vote-by-mail in response to the pandemic, simultaneously protecting our democracy and our public health.

But Texas officials including the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Attorney General have fought against allowing all voters to vote by mail (although all three have themselves exercised this option in the past). Instead, the Secretary of State has released (inadequate) guidance for in-person voting, telling voters to bring their own hand sanitizer and pens and to “consider” wearing facemasks.

This failure of state leadership was compounded by the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling that lack of immunity to COVID-19 is not a sufficient reason for voters to apply to vote by mail. The Court left voters to decide what is sufficient to qualify, noting only that “election officials have no responsibility to question or investigate a ballot application that is valid on its face.” The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has also confirmed that they will block the expansion of mail-in ballots while the appeals process continues in a second case.

We’ve seen many forms of civic participation in the past weeks, including protests, advocacy, and donations in response to the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and other Black Americans. These forms of civic engagement are vital ways to demand change, and we must complement them by ensuring that Texans can also make their voices heard at the ballot box. By restricting access to vote-by-mail, Texas leaders add to the disgraceful legacy of voter suppression that disproportionately affects marginalized communities, including Black Texans.


Take action now to support the right of all Texans to cast a safe and secure ballot:

Support: Donate time and money to resources led by and supporting Black Texans (Thanks to MOVE Texas for compiling this thread).

Learn: Read our 2019 Youth Vote Report to learn more about voter suppression in Texas and find organizations working for change.

Teach: Share resources about how to register to vote by mail and the current state of lawsuits.

Serve: Check your county’s elections division to work as an election clerk. High school students who are 16 or older can apply to serve as student election workers.

Vote: Runoff elections have been postponed until July 14. The deadline to register to vote has been extended until June 15. Early voting has been extended and will now run from June 29 to July 10.

Advocate: Tell state officials that you support expanded access to the vote. Stay connected to CDF’s youth civic engagement newsletter as we prepare for the 2021 legislative session.