Texas AG pushed to rescind Houston virus relief funding

A newly revealed document shows that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked Trump administration officials to rescind federal virus relief fuding that Houston used to expand people’s voting options

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked Trump administration officials to rescind federal virus relief funding that Houston used to expand people’s voting options, according to a document revealed Tuesday.

The Washington-based Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics obtained and published the letter, in what has become the latest example of the Republican attorney general’s efforts to keep in place Texas’ strict rules requiring most voters to cast ballots in-person, even during a pandemic.

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said the way the money was used helped protect elections workers and voters from the coronavirus. Some people used a drive-thru option to vote, others stood in socially distanced lines, and some polling places were open for 24 hours.

“Just as intended, voters had more options to vote without jeopardizing their health,” Longoria said in a statement. “We invested in public safety that resulted in record voter turnout. We’re proud to show Ken Paxton what it looks like to invest in public safety rather than politicized letters.”

Paxton’s office and the Department of Treasury did not respond to requests for comment.

Texas is one of only five states that did not broaden the use of voting by mail for the November election. State and federal courts blocked efforts by officials in Houston and other Democratic-run Texas cities to offer mail-in voting applications to anyone who feared contracting COVID-19 if they voted in person.

Some have speculated that Paxton is angling for a preemptive pardon in the waning weeks of Trump’s administration.

Paxton is being investigated by the FBI after eight senior officials in his office accused him of bribery, abuse of office and other offenses they said he committed in helping a wealthy donor try to fend off his own federal investigation. Paxton has broadly denied wrongdoing.

Texas’ top law enforcement official also has spent most of his five years in office under a state felony indictment for securities fraud. Paxton pleaded not guilty in that case, which has been stalled for years by legal challenges.

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Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.