THE NOVEL coronavirus does not just threaten Americans’ lives; it threatens their democracy. The pandemic will deter people from showing up to vote in person. If Americans feel as though they must choose between voting and their safety, the legitimacy of the November presidential election will be in doubt. Some state leaders are trying to head off this disastrous scenario. Others, including those in Texas, are encouraging it.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) is fighting to keep tight limits on who qualifies for an absentee ballot in his state. Several states conduct nearly all voting via absentee ballot, and most others allow people to obtain mail-in ballots without providing a reason. Texas is one of the handful of laggard states that still require excuses, such as illness. Leaders of other states in this category, such as Delaware, have announced that voters can use fear of covid-19 as a valid reason to get mail-in ballots. That is the least states can do to give their voters a fair shot at having their voices heard. Yet Mr. Paxton is fighting in court to prevent Texans from having that option.

Mr. Paxton’s excuse is that Texas state law strictly limits absentee voting, even during a pandemic. The law requires voters under 65 to have a “sickness or physical condition” that could result in injury to their health if they attempted to vote in person. Yet Texans suing for access to absentee ballots point out that lack of immunity to covid-19 is a physical condition that makes polling places dangerous for them. Moreover, Texas’s language is little different from that of states that have moved to be more helpful to voters. Unlike leaders elsewhere, Mr. Paxton chose to read his state’s statute as narrowly as possible, rather than adopting plausible alternative readings that would give voters needed choice.

Voting advocates on Tuesday won a victory against Mr. Paxton in federal court on a separate argument — about whether limiting mail-in ballots for those under 65 is unconstitutional age discrimination. The issue, which will no doubt be litigated further, would have been moot if Mr. Paxton had not taken such a narrow view of the law at the outset.

Opposition to more absentee balloting is largely driven by open partisanship, as is the case with President Trump, or a convenient misreading of the facts, as is the case with many other — though not all — Republicans. “The integrity of our democratic election process must be maintained,” Mr. Paxton declared last month. If Mr. Paxton believes that absentee balloting leads to pervasive fraud, his view of reality is alarmingly warped. If he is seeking partisan advantage by denying Texans reasonable access to mail-in ballots, a strategy Mr. Trump has endorsed, that is even worse.

States such as Texas should be reforming their election systems in preparation for November. That means lifting restrictions on who can vote absentee, ensuring that mail-in ballot applications are easy to submit, paying for postage, investing in machinery and personnel to process mail-in ballots and easing deadlines so that ballots postmarked by Election Day are not tossed. Mr. Paxton is instead fighting to prevent Texas from doing even the bare minimum.

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