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Texas Supreme Court says 3 Green Party candidates must be added back to November ballot

Local elections administrators will have to print new ballots to meet a weekend deadline to send mail ballots to overseas and military voters.

This story was updated Fri. Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. to include the Supreme Court’s opinion on the case.

AUSTIN -- The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered that three Green Party candidates be added back onto the November ballots after a lower court ordered them removed.

The order is a victory for the Green Party, which focuses on climate change and social justice issues, and a loss for the Democratic Party, which sometimes loses more liberal voters to the latter and had sued to keep candidates off the ballots.

The three candidates are David B. Collins, who is running for the U.S. Senate against GOP incumbent John Cornyn and Democratic challenger MJ Hegar; Katija “Kat” Gruene, who is running for railroad commissioner; and Tommy Wakely who is running for Congressional District 21 in a race that also includes Republican incumbent Chip Roy and Democratic challenger Wendy Davis.

“The Secretary of State shall immediately take all necessary actions to ensure these candidates appear on the 2020 general election ballot as they would have appeared before the court of appeals' conditional grant of relief,” the court said in an order.

It did not immediately outline its rationale but said an opinion would follow.

Democrats decried the decision as partisan by the all-Republican Supreme Court.

The lawsuit centers around a new requirement that third parties pay filing fees like the Democratic and Republican parties. That law, which went into effect last September, is at the center of several legal challenges and many third-party candidates did not pay filing fees for the November election.

Last month, a state appeals court sided with the Democrats who wanted to remove the Green Party candidates from the ballot for not paying the filing fees, but the Supreme Court overruled that decision.

In an unsigned opinion on Friday, the court said the 2019 law did not have a strict deadline for the candidates to pay their filing fees and should have been offered the opportunity to remedy that before being booted off the ballot.

Because they were not, the lower court erred in ordering them removed from the ballot and the Green Party candidates should be reinstated. The ruling left Democrats with no option to continue the legal battle because the Aug. 21 deadline for a candidate to be declared ineligible has already passed and removing them from the ballot is no longer a remedy, according to the court.

“The Green Party didn’t want to follow the law, and now the state Attorney General and Republican Texas Supreme Court have helped them flaunt it,” Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party said in a statement. “Meanwhile, mailed ballots have to be recalled or replaced while military and overseas voters will be put at further risk of not having their ballots delivered on time. All of this because the Republican Party believes this will give them a better chance to hold on to power.

“Every Texan voting this November should remember that the Republican Texas Supreme Court incumbents took every opportunity to rule against their voting rights,” Hinojosa added.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court also rejected an attempt by Republicans to remove Libertarian candidates from the ballot on the same grounds. In rejecting the GOP attempt, the court said the deadline to declare the Libertarian candidates ineligible had already passed.

Because some of the reinstated Green Party candidates are running statewide, ballots across the state must be re-printed ahead of a deadline to mail overseas and military ballots by this weekend. But the Secretary of State’s office told election officials the court’s ruling would not impact that deadline.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling and ballot change will not be an acceptable excuse for missing the 45-day deadline,” said Keith Ingram, chief elections officer for the secretary of state said in a bulletin to all county elections officials. “That deadline must still be met.”

Any voters that have already been sent mail ballots must be sent new ones that include the three Green Party candidates. Secretary of State Ruth R. Hughs’ office said it is prepared to assist any local election officials with emergency ballot preparation in order to meet the deadline.

James Barragán. James Barragán covers Texas politics for The Dallas Morning News. He has covered immigration, public safety and voting rights and has traveled on assignment to the U.S. Supreme Court and Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Before joining The News in 2017, he worked for the Austin American-Statesman and The Los Angeles Times.

jbarragan@dallasnews.com /JamesBarraganNews James_Barragan
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