Update on October 9 at 11PM: US Judge Robert Pitman blocked Abbott’s order limiting counties to just one mail ballot drop-off location. AG Paxton is appealing the decision on Abbott’s behalf.
Gov. Greg Abbott calls it enhanced ballot security. Democrats call it a voter suppression tactic.
Abbott on Thursday issued an order mandating that counties have just one drop-off location for voters who are returning mail ballots in person.
The proclamation also requires voting clerks to allow poll watchers from the political parties to observe any activity at the designated drop-off location.
“The state of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” Abbott said in a statement issued by his office. “As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
Abbott’s new order marks a reversal from the way mail ballots were allowed to be returned for the July primary runoff election. Harris County offered 11 drop-off locations for that election and was planning to offer 12 sites for the November election. Likewise, Travis County has four locations open.
“Going back on his word at this point harms voters and will result in widespread confusion and voter suppression. Many mail ballots have already been dropped off by voters across Harris County, and multiple drop-off locations have been advertised for weeks,” Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins stated on Twitter.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa minced no words in his reaction to the governor’s latest move, calling Abbott a “cheater.”
“Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Governor Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute,” Hinojosa said. “Courts all over the country, including the Fifth Circuit yesterday, have held that it is too late to change election rules, but our failed Republican leadership will try anyway. Make no mistake, Democracy itself is on the ballot. Every Texan must get out and vote these cowards out!”
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just a day ago did cite the late date in refusing to allow reinstatement of straight-ticket voting in a lawsuit brought by a group of Democrats.
The Tarrant County Democratic Party had asked the Tarrant County Elections Office to open up more than one ballot drop-off location. They said they were told no because there had been threats from Republicans about litigation.
Abbott’s new order is to take effect Friday. At that time, counties will have to shut down all but one of their drop-off locations for mail ballots.
The governor’s decision is likely to spark another legal battle.