Harris County recruits medical experts to advise voters on mail-in ballot

Now less than three months away from Election Day, a new “S.A.F.E. Elections Medical Advisory Committee” is meeting this week in Harris County, strategizing the best way to cast your ballot while also protecting your health amid the coronavirus pandemic.

New Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins says he recruited the team of eight medical and public health experts to help decipher the answer to this question: If you have underlying health conditions that make you more vulnerable to COVID-19, is that enough of a reason for you to qualify for mail-in early voting?

“The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that if you have a likelihood of injury to your health by voting in person that you’re eligible to vote by mail, but they didn’t provide guidance on what that means and what condition one might have that would create this likelihood of injury to your health,” said Hollins. “If you have asthma or diabetes or any number of other conditions that make you more susceptible, if you have auto-immune challenges, are there things that create this likelihood of injury to your health by voting in person?”

Hollins told FOX 26 he hopes the new committee will be able to give voters a clear answer on whether they qualify to apply for mail-in voting.

But Republican critics of the Democratic county clerk say medical experts shouldn’t advise voters on their mail-in ballot eligibility.

“The eligibility for voting by mail is clearly defined in the Texas Election Code,” said Alan Vera, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee. “If voters, based on these doctors’ opinions, vote by mail, and the Attorney General decides that that was not legal, then both the voter and the doctors are going to be subject to investigation and possible prosecution for committing what is now in Texas a felony offense of fraudulent mail-in ballot voting.”

Vera asked Harris County Commissioners’ Court for an investigation of potential mail-in voter fraud in the 2020 primaries. He says more mail-in voting leads to greater risk for fraud.

“You don’t have to submit a photocopy of your driver’s license with your mail-in ballot as you do in Alabama and Alaska—they require that,” said Vera. “So just from the standpoint of chain of custody, from the standpoint of identification of the voter, and because Texas now has a pretty bad track record of mail-in ballot harvesting, yes there is a significantly higher increase in potential ballot fraud with mail ballots versus voting in person.”

The county clerk disagrees.

“Across the country there’s no evidence of mail ballot fraud happening at scale,” said Hollins. “The current president started a task force focused specifically on this issue, and that task force put out a report in 2018 that could not find any evidence of this sort of mail ballot fraud.”

The S.A.F.E. Elections Medical Advisory Committee Members include:
-         Expert Medical Advisor & Clinical Research Operations Consultant
-         Pharmaceutical & Medical Device Industry
-         Emeritus Professor of Pathology-Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine
-         Assistant Professor, Section of Pediatric Gastroenterology
-         Texas Children's Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine
-         President & CEO, Episcopal Health Foundation
-         Non-resident Fellow in Health Policy, Rice University's Baker Institute
-         Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine
-         Professor of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, Baylor College of Medicine
-         Infectious Disease Section, VA Medical Center, Houston
-         Executive Director, Clinical Transformation
-         Assistant Professor, Department of Plastic Surgery,UT MD Anderson Cancer Center
-         Non-Residential Scholar, Baker Institute for Public Policy
-         Chief Medical Officer
-         Professor, Radiation Oncology, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center
-         Interim Physician-in-Chief and Pathologist-in-Chief, Texas Children’s Hospital
-         Professor of Pathology & Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine