Denton city council feuds over mail in ballots

Denton - Early voting and Election Day voting will continue to take place in person this year after the city council did not reach an agreement to fight for expanded voter access to mail-in ballots for the presidential election in light of the pandemic.

In a three-four decision, the Denton City Council voted against petitioning the governor to expand absentee (or mail-in) ballots to all Texas residents back in late April.

"I'm disappointed a council majority was not reached" said councilwoman Deborah Armintor, who introduced the plan.

Now, with COVID-19 continually spreading throughout the state, Armintor worries the virus will decrease voter turnout.

"Voting should be accessible to anyone at any time, but because of COVID, voting is not as safe in person as it is by mail," Armintor said. "I think if it is made easier and more accessible, everyone would get to do it."

The concept of expanding mail-in ballots has become a hot topic across local, state and national politics, receiving harsh criticisms of increased voter fraud from the President himself. Armintor's also ran into similar criticisms from her own colleagues.

"Mail-in ballots just increase the ability for there to be abuse in the voting system," councilmember John Ryan, said during an interview.

Ryan's beliefs of potential voter fraud was echoed on Oct. 8, when a Carrollton mayoral candidate was arrested for voter fraud after he was caught in possession with 25 mail-in ballots.

In light of growing claims of fraud, think tanks across the country, uch as the Brennen Center for Justice, have issued reports arguing the rareness of fraud committed by mail-in voting.

"Despite this dramatic increase in mail voting over time, fraud rates remain infinitesimally small," the authors from the Brennen Center concluded. "None of the five states that hold their elections primarily by mail has had any voter fraud scandals since making that change."

The authors also noted several tactics that prevent ballot fraud, including secure ballot drop-offs, harsh penalties for committing fraud and post election audits.

Although she doesn't know for sure, Armintor believes she knows why members of the council voted against the expansion.

"It's because they're republicans, I don't know how to put it any other way," Armintor said. "Now do I know that that's why: no. but they didn't give a reason so that's what I think. The level of fraud is statistically insignificant."

Although Armintor believes the decision would decrease voter turnout, Ryan thinks otherwise.

"The governor has added an extra week to early voting so it can be tapered out," Ryan said. "We have almost doubled the number of polling sites this year than we normally have on the day of elections. There are plenty of safety measures out there to handle the situation."

Armintor was backed by Keely Briggs and Paul Meltzer, who both agreed mail-in ballots would safely give voters access to the polls. Another colleague agreed there should be additional protections for voters at the polls, but didn't think this resolution was the way to go.

"I'm supportive of the idea. We want to ensure the best possible turnout, however, this is ultimately something where I don't think a resolution from the Denton City Council will move the needle one way or another," councilman Jesse Davis said during the council meeting before ultimately voting against the resolution.

To be eligible to vote using a mail-in ballot in the state of Texas, you must be: "65 years of age or older" "out of the county during the entire election" "sick or disabled" or "confined in jail, but eligible to vote".

These requirements make Texas one of six states in the country with strict voting guidelines. However, one group of voters who may be able to access mail in ballots are college students, including University of North Texas sophomore Biology student Mialani Higa.

"I requested a mail-in ballot because I'm registered to vote in Frisco and I didn't want to worry about going back and forth," Higa said.

Higa didn't know she qualified to use a mail-in ballot, but did some research and was able to figure out how to request a ballot.

"I think all students should look into mail-in ballots," Higa said. "Going back and forth between school and home to vote can be a hassle, especially in a pandemic, so if you qualify, you should utilize it."

If you were unable to vote by mail, you can still vote in person during early voting from Oct. 13 - 30. The elections office has put in safety protocols in place for those going to the polls physically, including the requirements of masks and social distancing.

For more information about the Nov. 3 elections, or information about where you can vote, please go to