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Dallas healthcare workers and others whose movement has been restricted following exposure to Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan will be able to vote in the upcoming election by email.
Lawyers for the Dallas County Elections filed a petition asking the court to extend email voting privileges to workers who treated Duncan and those who may have subsequently had contact with those workers, reports the Wall Street Journal. Duncan, a Liberian national, died earlier this month in Dallas after contracting Ebola in Liberia. Those who may have been potentially exposed to the virus are typically subject to restrictions on their movement and regular health checks for 21 days, the incubation period of the disease.
What led to this unusual, but not unprecedented step to allow voting by email?
Petition Cited 'Need to Balance' Safety and Voting Rights
In the petition filed with the court, Dallas County Election Administrator Antoinette Pippins-Pool requested an exception to the voting procedures set out in the Texas Elections Code allowing individuals under movement restriction to vote via emailed ballot. The petition cites the "need to balance the state's duty to protect the public health and Petitioner's statutory responsibility to safeguard and ensure the right of the county's eligible registered voters to cast a vote in the upcoming election."
Under the Elections Administrator's plan, those eligible to take part in email voting will be notified by the county and sent vote-by-mail applications through email. The voters will then be asked to scan the application, and attach proof of their "Communicable Disease Control Order" to ensure their eligibility. The voters will receive unmarked ballots, also via email, which can then be scanned or photographed upon completion and emailed back to pre-selected personnel who will process the votes.
Previous Vote-by-Email Programs
As noted in the petition, Texas has already administered a similar vote-by-email pilot program in Bexar County last year. That program allowed overseas military personnel to vote by email.
In 2012, New Jersey allowed voters affected by Hurricane Sandy to vote by email. After the state's system encountered problems, the deadline for submitting ballots was extended three days to allow email voters to have their votes counted. Although the voting deadline in Dallas County will remain the same for all voters, Pippins-Pool's petition requested an extension of the state's deadline for applying to vote by mail be extended past the previous October 24 deadline to November 2 for voters taking part in the email program.