Supreme Court rejects challenge to vote-by-mail restrictions in Texas

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to voting rules in Texas that automatically let senior citizens − but not younger people − vote by mail.

Mail-in balloting has become a partisan debate as Democrats champion it as a way to increase turnout and Republicans argue it increases the risk of voter fraud.

Documented cases of voter fraud, including those related to voting by mail, are rare. But while uncommon, fraud seems to occur more often with mailed-in votes than with in-person voting, according to the MIT Election Data & Science Lab.

Seven states – Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee – allow older voters to request an absentee ballot for any reason but let others do so only under certain circumstances.

The court on Monday declined to hear an appeal brought by three voters in Texas, just as it rejected a similar challenge in 2021 to Indiana’s voting rules. It also twice declined to hear earlier versions of the Texas suit brought by the Texas Democratic Party during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challengers argued that the unequal treatment of voters is age-based discrimination prohibited by the 26th Amendment.

Ratified in 1971 to lower the voting age to 18, the amendment says the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged … on account of age.”

“Whatever voting rights a state grants to people aged 65-and-over, it must also grant to people under 65,” the Texas voters told the Supreme Court in their unsuccessful appeal.

They wanted the court to overturn an appeals court’s ruling that Texas’ rules are allowed because making it easier for some people to vote doesn’t make it harder for others to do so. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said that the right to vote when the 26th Amendment was ratified did not include the right to vote by mail.

Election workers process vote-by-mail ballots in   Industry, Calif., on Nov. 4, 2022.
Election workers process vote-by-mail ballots in Industry, Calif., on Nov. 4, 2022.

Most states now either mail ballots to all voters or allow all residents to request an absentee ballot for any reason.

But Texas said it has taken a different route to protect voting integrity while recognizing that older voters may have limited mobility or other reasons that make it harder for them to vote in person.

The state said allowing anyone to request a mail-in ballot would increase the risk of voter fraud.

Related Voter ID and absentee-ballot limits: the South tightens key voting laws ahead of election

About one-third of voters cast ballots by mail in the 2022 midterm elections, according to the MIT data lab.

The lab looked at whether expanding mailed voting options increases voter turnout. The research suggests it can modestly bump up participation in midterm and presidential elections and could have a greater effect on primaries, local elections and special elections.

The voters who challenged Texas’ rules said the barriers younger voters can face to voting in person include lack of transportation, long lines, inability to find or access their polling place, and limited time off from work.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Supreme Court declines challenge to vote-by-mail rules