Tale of two states: Texas fought challenges to voting law while Georgia settled

Texas A.G. took challenges to state, federal supreme courts; Georgia settled in multiple cases.

Published: December 15, 2020 11:52am

Updated: December 16, 2020 8:52am

Georgia's surprise tilt to Joe Biden this year—the first time the state went for a Democrat presidential candidate in nearly 30 years—followed after officials made numerous concessions to election activists over the last several years, including allowing voting documents with errors on them to be processed instead of rejected. 

Texas, meanwhile, remained red despite some media prognostications it would flip Democrat after state officials there mounted a tenacious defense of its existing voting system. 

2020 literally provided a tale of two traditionally red states with two very different outcomes.

In three separate instances over the last several years, Georgia settled with voting activists regarding their demanded changes to the state's voting code, electing to end the suits on negotiated terms rather than fighting them to the highest courts possible. 

In one case settled in 2017, Georgia's then-secretary of state, Brian Kemp, agreed to alter Georgia's "exact-match" rule, one that required voter information on registration forms to match exactly to the information contained within the state's records. Under the terms of the settlement, voters whose applications were rejected would have their applications placed in "pending" status, and would still be "permitted to vote upon showing satisfactory identification."

In a November 2018 settlement, meanwhile, then-Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden agreed to scrap Georgia's limits on who can accompany to the ballot box, and assist, voters of limited-English proficiency. Previously, voters had been limited to receiving assistance from either a family member or a registered voter from the same district. The settlement dictated that "voters requiring assistance [can] receive assistance from anyone of the voter’s choosing" subject to a few narrow restrictions. 

And in a suit settled in March of this year, Georgia conceded to notify voters within three business days if their absentee ballots were rejected due to errors within the accompanying documentation. That suit had been brought pursuant to a dispute over about 8,000 ballots thrown out in the contentious 2018 gubernatorial election. 

The secretary of state's office declined to comment on the three settlements and their possible impact on turnout and voting habits in Georgia's election this year. "Only one of these was during our administration – the notification settlement," spokesman Ari Schaffer told Just the News. 

Joe Biden won Georgia by a razor-thin 0.2% margin of about 12,000 votes. 

Texas attorney general fought challenges to the Supreme Court

In contrast to Georgia's relative willingness to settle challenges to its election law, Texas maintained an aggressive posture against changes to its voting laws in 2020. 

Attorney General Ken Paxton throughout the year fended off multiple attempts by county officials and Democrats throughout the state to widely expand mail-in voting. Texas has historically required nearly all state voters to cast their ballots in-person, though numerous county officials this year had sought to greatly increase the number of absentee voters, citing safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In August, Paxton filed suit against the clerk of Harris County, Texas "for sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to over two million Harris County registered voters" in what Paxton's office said was a "blatant violation of Texas election laws." 

The state took the matter to the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled in October that "the Election Code does not authorize the mailing proposed by the Harris County Clerk." Paxton called the ruling "a huge win for Texas."

Paxton earlier in the year had similarly praised a Texas Supreme Court ruling that had rejected attempts from officials of several counties to define a lack of immunity to COVID-19 as a "disability" that qualified voters for an absentee ballot. 

The court declined to take further action on the issue, with the justices declaring themselves "confident that election officials will comply" with the state law. In praising the decision, Paxton argued that "in-person voting is the surest way to maintain the integrity of our elections, prevent voter fraud and guarantee that every voter is who they claim to be."

In June, Texas took to the U.S. Supreme Court a case in which Democrats were attempting to expand mail-in voting to every resident of the state; the Supreme Court ultimately refused to overturn a lower ruling blocking that attempt. 

Paxton hailed the Court for, he said, "following the law and refusing to order mail-in balloting that the Texas Legislature has forbidden."

Paxton's office also defended Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's directive allowing only one ballot box per county during early voting in the state. The Texas Supreme Court eventually upheld that rule.

The ultimate electoral effects of both Texas's and Georgia's respective policy changes over the last several months and years will doubtlessly be a source of future study. Texas went handily for Donald Trump in 2020 by more than 600,000 votes or around six percentage points. 

Georgia's historically narrow 12,000-vote gap between Biden and Trump, meanwhile, was significantly smaller than between Trump and Clinton in 2016; in that election, Trump carried the state by over 200,000 votes. 

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