SAN ANGELO, Texas — On Tuesday, May 19, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery ordered all state voters, regardless of age, qualify for mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Texas, which has one of the strictest vote-by-mail programs in the country, is one of 16 states in the United States that requires absentee voters to submit a vote-by-mail application with a valid excuse. Valid excuses are given to people who: are 65 or older, will be out of the county on election day, people who are in jail and not convicted, and people who are sick or disabled.

"We're required to have an application, and the voter has to sign it or have a witness state that that's the voter applying for it. When the ballot's returned, it has a signature on it, so our ballot board compares those signatures, and that's 'quote-unquote' the proof that it's the voter actually voting that ballot," Vona Hudson, Tom Green County elections administrator, said.

Biery, who began his service for the United States District Court in 1994, believes voters who fear contracting COVID-19 at voting sites should be allowed to vote by mail.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, however, believes allowing more people to vote by mail opens up the possibility of voter fraud.

"Vote by mail has a lot more risk as it relates to fraud and people not being the people they say they are when they send in the ballot," he said in a press release.

Many Republicans, including President Donald Trump, agree with Paxton and are against voting by mail. However, three-in-four Americans support mail-in voting, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

Additionally, none of the five states which hold all mail-in elections have had any major voting fraud scandals since instituting the program.

"As to whether there's voter fraud or not, I can't really speak to that. I know that there have been accusations made in different counties and so forth that they have had a problem with it," Hudson said.

Currently, Biery's ruling is only stopped from taking effect while the court considers whether it will issue an injunction to nullify it during the appeals process.

For more information on how to vote in Tom Green County and to download the application for mail-in ballots, you can visit Tom Green County's website.