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Appeals court OKs Texas governor's order to limit drop off locations for absentee ballots

Democrats and voting rights groups said that the Oct. 1 order amounted to voter suppression.
Image: An election worker guides voters in cars at a drive-through mail ballot drop-off site at NRG Stadium on Oct. 7, 2020 in Houston, Texas.
An election worker guides voters in cars at a drive-through mail ballot drop-off site at NRG Stadium in Houston.Go Nakamura / Getty Images

A U.S. federal appeals court panel on Monday upheld Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to shut down dozens of mail ballot drop-off sites weeks before November’s election.

The ruling comes after a federal judge on Friday halted the order, which allowed for only one absentee ballot drop off location for every county, regardless of its size.

The Texas secretary of state had argued that Abbott’s order was part of a 40-day expansion of Texans’ absentee voting opportunities put in place because of Covid-19 that went beyond what state election rules normally permit.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said it agreed with her.

“Leaving the governor’s October 1 proclamation in place still gives Texas absentee voters many ways to cast their ballots in the November 3 election,” the court wrote in its ruling. “These methods for remote voting outstrip what Texas law previously permitted in a pre-Covid world. The October 1 proclamation abridges no one’s right to vote.”

Democrats and voting rights groups said that Abbott's Oct. 1 order amounted to voter suppression. Abbott has said he issued it to ensure the security of the ballots.

The lawsuit was first filed in early October and the plaintiffs listed on the appeal include the League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters of Texas, and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives. The organizations were not immediately available for comment.

The federal judge on Friday had ruled in favor of a preliminary injunction on the order, saying that “the public interest is not served by Texas’ continued enforcement of a proclamation plaintiffs have shown likely violates their fundamental right to vote.”

However, the Fifth Circuit said in its ruling that in halting Abbott’s order, “the district court erred" in its analysis of the plaintiffs’ voting-rights and equal protection claims.

Image: Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott.Eric Gay / AP file

Texas’ Secretary of State Ruth Hughes immediately appealed the ruling on Friday and the Fifth Circuit granted a temporary stay the next day.

The three judges listed in the ruling were appointed by President Donald Trump.

In Texas, if a voter is 65 or older on Election Day, has a disability, or is outside the county they can apply to vote by mail.

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Harris County, which includes much of the sprawling city of Houston and which has a population of more than 4.7 million people, had created 11 ballot drop-off locations. Dallas County, the state's second-largest county by population, initially opened five drop-off locations.

The president has repeatedly questioned mail-in voting at a time when Americans embraced it in response to the pandemic. Trump has also said that he wants to use law-enforcement as poll watchers on Election Day.

There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States, according to numerous investigations and studies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.