By Tom Hals
(Reuters) - The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that voters in Houston cannot receive unsolicited mail-in ballot applications for November's presidential election, thwarting an effort to expand voting in the third most populous county in the United States.
The court sided with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's contention that the state's election law did not authorize a plan by Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins to mail applications to the county's 2.4 million registered voters.
The Supreme Court directed a lower court to issue an injunction to prohibit Hollins from sending the applications to all registered voters.
"It is disappointing that the Court has sided with political forces seeking to limit voter access," Hollins said in a statement.
Hollins planned to send applications to every registered voter in Harris County to help them decide if they are eligible to vote by mail in the Nov. 3 election. Texas law authorizes mail voting for certain groups such as those with disabilities and voters over 65.
"Mass-mailing unsolicited ballot applications to voters ineligible to vote by mail cannot be said to be necessary or indispensable to the conduct of early voting," the Supreme Court said.
Last week the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, limited drop-off sites for mail-in ballots in Texas, which has long been a Republican stronghold but could be close this year.
Voting access has become a flash point in the election. Most states have expanded mail ballots to encourage voting amid the pandemic, but that has been challenged by Republicans.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ensured that a Republican-backed law in South Carolina that requires voters to have a witness sign mail-in ballots will be in place for the election.
President Donald Trump, a Republican who trails his Democrat challenger, Joe Biden, has attacked the integrity of mail-in voting and said it would "rig" the election.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by David Gregorio and Steve Orlofsky)