Texas Supreme Court limits ballot drop off sites to one per county

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Governor Greg Abbott’s order that limits counties to one mail ballot drop-off location. The order, which has sparked legal and political controversy in the state, prevents some of the state’s largest counties from setting up multiple drop-off sites.

The unanimous decision from the all-Republican court overturned a lower court’s decision to issue an injunction on Abbott’s order. A state appeals upheld the lower court’s decision last week. 

The battle began after Abbott issued an order in late July that allowed Texans to hand-deliver their mail ballots before Election Day. Normally, absentee ballots in the state must be returned through the mail, except on Election Day, when voters can deliver their ballots in person. 

After that announcement, some counties — including Harris County, home to Houston — announced plans to have multiple ballot drop-off locations. On October 1, Abbott issued a separate order saying counties could only set up one drop-off site, saying it would “strengthen voting safety in Texas.”

The lawsuit, which was filed by the Anti-Defamation League and Common Cause, argued that Abbott didn’t have the authority to put limits in place and imposed “an unconstitutional burden on voters’ right to vote.” But the state’s Supreme Court disagreed.

“In the end, the plaintiffs’ complaint is that the Governor ultimately decided not to increase their voting options quite as much as he initially announced,” the justices wrote, adding, “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.”

In a separate case, a federal appeals court also upheld Abbott’s order earlier this month.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa decried Tuesday’s decision in a statement. “The Texas Republican Supreme Court continues to bend the law in any which way to secure Republican political power,” he said.

Officials in Harris County, which is the largest county in Texas and the third largest county in the country, have warned that cutting the county’s number of drop off sites could make the lone site “more than 50 miles away” for some voters. 

Texas is one of the only states that did not expand eligibility for mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. In order to be eligible for mail-in voting, you must be 65 years or older, disabled, out of the county on Election Day and early voting period, or in jail but otherwise eligible. 

Abbott’s July order also expanded Texas’ early in-person voting period by six days, and the state has seen incredible turnout during early voting. More than 7.8 million Texans have either voted early or turned in mail ballots, which makes up 87% of the state’s total turnout in 2016. On Tuesday, Harris County surpassed its total turnout in the 2012 presidential election, which was 1.2 million votes. 

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