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Texas Supreme Court upholds governor's order for one ballot drop-off site per county

Democrats and voting rights groups said the governor's order amounted to voter suppression give the size of some of the state's counties
Harris County election worker Romanique Tillman prepares mail-in ballots to be sent out to voters, in Houston on Sept. 29, 2020.David J. Phillip / AP file

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Gov. Greg Abbott's order limiting counties to one drop-off site for absentee ballots, dealing a blow to Democrats and voting rights groups that won a temporary injunction blocking the mandate.

“The Governor’s October Proclamation provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3 election than does the Election Code. It does not disenfranchise anyone,” the court said in its ruling.

“The plaintiffs have not established a probable right to an injunction blocking the October Proclamation. As a result, they were not entitled to a temporary injunction, and the trial court erred in granting that relief. The judgment of the court of appeals is reversed, and the temporary injunction issued by the trial court is dissolved.”

Democrats and voting rights groups said Abbott's Oct. 1 order, which allowed for only one absentee ballot drop off location for every county regardless of its size, amounted to voter suppression because the order would affect the state’s largest cities, such as Houston, some of which are Democratic strongholds.

After concerns were raised about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service, voters have increasingly signaled a strong preference toward early voting and to use drop-off sites to avoid crowds on Election Day. Large counties, such as Harris, in which Houston is located, as well as Travis and Fort Bend, had plans to offer multiple drop-off sites for absentee ballots to help voters avoid long lines, extensive travel and potential exposure to Covid-19.

The lawsuit was swiftly 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.

Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa slammed the decision in a statement on Tuesday.

“The Texas Republican Supreme Court continues to bend the law in any which way to secure Republican political power. The only option for free and fair government is to vote democrat all the way down the ballot,” he said.

This month, a federal judge initially gave Democrats a win and halted the order and then a state appeals upheld the decision to block the order.

Abbott said he issued the order limiting drop-off sites to ensure the security of the ballots just as President Trump has promoted baseless conspiracy theories about mail-in voting. Americans, however, have embraced early and absentee voting in response to the pandemic. Trump has continued to sow distrust about the outcome of the election by casting doubt, without evidence, on the integrity of the system.

Early voting in the state began on Oct. 13 after facing a lawsuit from Republicans to limit the governor’s 17-day timeframe for voters to cast their ballots. Abbott had issued an order in July that added six days of early absentee voting in the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ruling also comes as the state hit a voting milestone, apparently spurred by voter enthusiasm. As of Monday, with four days of early voting left in the state, more voters had cast ballots during this early voting period than registered voters did during the entire 2016 early voting period, according to the Texas secretary of state. Also, 85 percent of ballots have been cast in person.