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Texas Supreme Court Blocks Harris County Clerk From Sending Voters Mail-In Ballots

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, the Texas Supreme Court stopped the clerk of Harris County from sending applications for mail-in ballots to over 2 million registered voters ahead of the November election. Harris County is the third-largest county in the country. It includes Houston. The coronavirus threat is severe there, and the county advises residents to stay home. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins joins us now from Houston. He will be administering the elections in Harris County in November. Thanks very much for being with us, sir.

CHRIS HOLLINS: Absolutely. It's a pleasure to be here, Scott.

SIMON: There's some litigation ahead, but why did you want to send out those ballot applications now?

HOLLINS: Well, Scott, our democracy depends on the people. People need to have their voices heard, especially when it comes to the ballot box. And here in Texas, where we're facing a second wave of COVID-19, it's especially important that my office ensure that voters can cast their ballots safely and conveniently and with the peace of mind that their votes will be counted.

We know that voting by mail is the safest and most convenient way to vote, but Texas is one of six states where you don't automatically qualify to vote by mail. You have to be eligible. And so what my office is doing is sharing educational materials with voters to inform them and make it easy for them to apply if they are eligible.

SIMON: What about the argument, I gather, from the state attorney general that sending out more than 2 million applications now unbidden will just invite confusion and maybe even fraud?

HOLLINS: Well, Scott, the attorney general's argument here is that providing information to voters will confuse them, but providing no information whatsoever to them will leave them enlightened, and that just doesn't make sense. We need to make sure that voters know their rights, that they know the law around if they're eligible to vote by mail or not and that they can make that decision for themselves. And, in fact, our mailer, our educational materials provide significantly more information to the voters than they're able to find even on the secretary of state's website.

SIMON: You've been able to send applications to those voters who are 65 years of age and older, haven't you?

HOLLINS: We have. And that's another interesting part of the state's argument. What they're arguing in court is that by law, we can't send proactive applications to anyone. But at the same time, they're OK with us sending them to older voters and not to younger voters, and we don't think that's right, Scott.

SIMON: I have to ask, Mr. Clerk, if ultimately you can send more than 2 million ballot applications, do you have the facilities to count them all?

HOLLINS: We absolutely do. We actually just moved our election headquarters to NRG Arena, which is across the parking lot from where the Houston Texans play. And so we've more than tripled the footprint of our office to allow for us to run a full and robust operation while respecting social distancing and safety measures. And so we have the infrastructure in place to process these applications - to ultimately process the mail ballots that might come in. Now it's up to the court to allow us to do our job, which is to educate voters and give them the opportunity to vote by mail if they're eligible.

SIMON: Chris Hollins is the clerk of Harris County, Texas. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

HOLLINS: Thanks for having me, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.