Texas voters and voting rights groups are suing Gov. Greg Abbott in federal district court over his order limiting the number of hand-delivery sites for mail-in ballots.
The plaintiffs, including a voter from Austin, argue the order Abbott announced Thursday limiting drop-off sites to only one per county disproportionately affects disabled voters and voters over 65. They say it also creates challenges for voters who live in the state’s larger and more populous counties.
“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,” plaintiffs state in their lawsuit, filed Thursday in Austin. “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.”
The president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, one of the groups suing the state, said the order is creating confusion among voters planning to use these drop-off locations for their mail-in ballots.
“This sudden change to me feels totally like voter suppression,” Grace Chimene said. “I am very concerned for the voters in those communities who are impacted – especially the voters with disabilities and the voters 65 and over who this really impacts.”
Abbott has said his order is an effort to enhance "ballot security protocols" for mail-in ballots, though he offered no evidence that these sites would affect the security of the ballots.
"The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections," Abbott said in a statement announcing the order. "These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting."
Larger counties in Texas decided to open these alternative ballot drop-off locations in an effort to address concerns from voters over potential issues with the U.S. Postal Service.
Danielle Lang, who is representing plaintiffs in the case, said there aren’t security concerns over these hand-delivery sites because they were designed to be an extension of a county clerk’s office.
“Whether you have one, 10 or 20 of these locations, they are all going to be appropriately staffed by election officials,” said Lang, a voting rights attorney with the Campaign Legal Center.
Voters are allowed to drop off only their own ballots and are required to show a photo ID and give their signatures at the location.
Chimene said security concerns are “a ridiculous reason” to close the sites.
The plaintiffs argue larger and more populated counties will be affected the most, so the order raises concerns over possible violations of the Voting Rights Act.
Lang said the urban counties have a disproportionate share of minority voters.
“The impact is not only going to felt most heavily by those in large counties, voters who are elderly and disabled,” she said, “but also more heavily by Black and Latino voters.”
Ultimately, though, voting groups say the order throws a wrench in Texans' voting plans. Chimene said it also further complicates education around voting during the pandemic.
“It makes it harder for voters because plans keep changing,” she said. “There is a pandemic going on, this is a huge election, this is important to everybody. We need to make sure that those voters in the large urban counties have equal and fair access to voting.”
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