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Mayor Nirenberg, Judge Wolff push for expanded mail-in voting amid coronavirus pandemic

Wolff said expanding vote by mail to include people who are social distancing due to coronavirus would protect voters and election workers and expand voting rights.

SAN ANTONIO — Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said during their coronavirus briefing on Thursday that they hope to expand mail-in voting so San Antonians can vote safely amid the spread of coronavirus.

Wolff noted that there are several federal and state lawsuits regarding this issue, and a hearing on one is expected on April 15. The Texas Democrats are suing so that the state doesn't see what happened in Wisconsin's primary elections earlier this week.

Only five of the normal 180 polling places in Milwaukee were open, leading many voters to stand in long lines for hours despite the stay-at-home order intended to slow the spread of coronavirus. Conditions like these can scare people away from the polls, and Wolff wants to avoid that in Bexar County.

"The decision the court is facing is whether to extend the definition of 'handicapped' to include those who fear contracting COVID-19 at the election site," said Wolff, urging the Secretary of State to set meaningful guidelines that protect the health and voting rights of Texans.

"This will not only protect the voters and election officials against this terrible problem that we're facing with COVID-19, but it also expands voting rights for everybody."

The Texas election code says voters have a disability if they have a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents them from appearing to vote in person without the likelihood of “injuring the voter’s health.”

Wolff said that 250,000 people had voted in the Democratic and Republican primaries this past March and that the Bexar County election administrator Jackie Callahan has 23,000 mail-in ballots ready to go for the runoff. She has ordered another 100,000 envelopes in case the lawsuit prevails.

Nirenberg said he agreed with Wolff.

"We have to make sure we expand access to mail-in ballots," Nirenberg said. "I also want to thank those letter carriers and postal workers who are delivering those ballots even through this coronavirus epidemic."

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