The first of what could be several lawsuits has been filed against Gov. Greg Abbott following his order Thursday to limit mail ballot drop-off locations to one per county. The plaintiffs are the National League of United Latin American Citizens, the Texas LULAC branch, the League of Women Voters of Texas and two individual voters.
The suit filed in federal court in Austin alleges violations of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment on free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment on citizenship rights and equal protection under the law.
“For Texas’ absentee voters — including those who had already requested or received their absentee ballot with the expectation that they would be able to use one of many drop-off locations offered by their county — the effect of the October 1 order is to unreasonably burden their ability to vote,” the lawsuit reads. “They will have to travel further distances, face longer waits, and risk exposure to COVID-19, in order to use the single ballot return location in their county. And, if they are unwilling or unable to face these new burdens, they will have to rely on a hobbled postal mail system — that has expressed a lack of confidence in its own ability to timely deliver the mail — and hope that their ballot will be delivered in time to be counted.”
The plaintiffs argue that changing the rules when the election is already underway is unreasonable, unfair and unconstitutional, and will lead to voter confusion. Ironically, it is the same argument Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have used in their legal fights to stop efforts to make voting more accessible and safe during the pandemic.
Abbott’s order, which is set to take effect today, will force the closure of 11 mail ballot drop-off locations in Harris County and three sites in Travis County. Other counties that had considered offering multiple drop-off locations refrained after being threatened with legal action by Republicans.
The reaction to the governor’s order has been abundant and harsh, especially in Houston and Harris County, which are impacted the most.
“Harris County is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, and we’re supposed to have 1 site? This isn’t security, it’s suppression,” stated Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Mail ballot voters shouldn’t have to drive 30 miles to drop off their ballot, or rely on a mail system that’s facing cutbacks.”
“Growing up, I was bused over 20 miles as a student in the first integrated class at Klein High School,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. “Because of the governor’s decision today, I would now have to go even farther to drop off an absentee ballot and make sure my vote is counted.
“Harris County is the 3rd largest county in the United States, and Houston is the 4th largest city in the country. Reducing the number of mail-in ballot drop-off sites from 11 to one is a direct attempt at voter suppression.”
While they wait to see if the lawsuit will be successful, Harris County has designated NRG Stadium as the drop-off location for mail ballots. Travis County’s one site is now at 5501 Airport Blvd.