Texas AG threatens to criminally sanction any group that tells voters to apply for a mail-in ballot to avoid COVID-19
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton speaking at a rally opposing same-sex marriage on March 23, 2015 (Screenshot/Youtube)

On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office issued a letter saying that the state's official position is that fear of contracting COVID-19 is not a valid excuse for applying for an absentee ballot.

Furthermore, the letter warned that any entity telling voters to apply on that basis could face "criminal sanctions" under state law prohibiting election fraud and the encouragement of "false information" on ballot applications, depending on "the facts and circumstances of the individual case."

Texas has among the most burdensome restrictions in the country on those seeking to vote by mail. To qualify for an absentee ballot, Texas voters must be over the age of 65, disabled, or absent from their county or confined in lockup during the voting period. Voting rights groups are urging state judges to interpret the "disabled" excuse to also include people at risk of exposure to coronavirus — which Paxton opposes.

On Wednesday afternoon, a district judge for Travis County issued a temporary injunction allowing voters to cite coronavirus risk to apply to vote by mail. That decision is likely to be appealed.