Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was sued in federal court Friday over his decision to limit counties in the state to one drop-off location for voters’ absentee ballots in the upcoming election, according to a report by the Texas Tribune.
Abbott’s Thursday order drew immediate criticism from the top elected officials in Houston and Harris County, which had planned to utilize 12 drop-off locations throughout the region. The county is the third-most populous in the United States, with more than 4.7 million residents and spanning more than 1,700 square miles, and there has been a spike in applications for mail-in ballots amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement released Thursday evening, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Abbott’s proclamation “reverses previous state guidance allowing counties to provide voters with multiple official ballot drop-off locations.”
“To propose only a single, secure drop-off location for a county of our size during a pandemic is ludicrous,” Hidalgo said. “Simply put, mail ballot voters should not be forced to drive 30 miles to drop off their ballot, or be limited to relying primarily on a mail system that’s facing cutbacks. Governor Abbott’s move is transparently about suppression, not security. It is also part of a broader effort by the Trump Administration to confuse voters, discourage voter participation and degrade public confidence in our elections.”
In the lawsuit filed Friday, two Texas voters, the League of Women Voters of Texas as well as the Texas and national leagues of the United Latin American Citizens asked a federal judge in Austin to overturn the governor’s order, according to the Texas Tribune.
According to a Thursday news release from the governor’s office, Abbott’s proclamation also “requires early voting clerks to allow poll watchers to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.”
“The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” Abbott said. “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.”
The deadline to register to vote in Texas is Monday, Oct. 5. Early voting is scheduled for Oct. 13-30 – with Abbott having previously expanded the early voting period by six days because of the pandemic – and Election Day is Nov. 3.
Applications for mail-in ballots must be received by the Harris County Clerk’s Office by Oct. 23. Per Texas law, citizens can vote by mail if they are age 65 or older, have a disability, will be out of the county during the election period or are incarcerated but otherwise eligible to vote.
“Reducing the number of mail-in ballot drop-off sites from (12) to one is a direct attempt at voter suppression,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “We should be focused on making voting more accessible and stop trying to create obstacles and distractions with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.”
For more information on how to vote or register to vote in Harris County, visit harrisvotes.com.