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‘Transparent Voter Suppression’: Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott Slashes Mail-in Ballot Drop-off Locations

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) is under fire after drastically limiting the number of mail-in ballot drop-off locations on Thursday.

In a proclamation focused on the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Abbott suspended state election law to require that all in-person mail-in ballots can only be dropped off at one location per county in order to satisfy “enhanced ballot security protocol.”

The move is likely to be particularly impactful in Texas’s largest counties–many of which have millions of residents.

“Harris County (Houston) has 4.7 million people spread out across 1729 square miles,” noted University of Texas Law Professor Steve Vladeck via Twitter. “Thanks to @GovAbbott, it’s now allowed only *one* location for dropping off mail-in ballots. Ditto DFW, Austin, and San Antonio.’Ballot security,’ my a**; this is transparent voter suppression.”

Vladeck was seemingly relying on population estimates from the 2010 Census. In that count, the three next-largest counties–Dallas, Tarrant and Bexar (pr. “bear”)–had populations well over 2 million while Travis County (where most of Austin is located) had a population well over 1 million. Severely outdated, the number of people who have lived in each county has drastically increased over the past 10 years–particularly in the counties of Harris, Tarrant and Travis.

The strain that such limitations will likely have on voters aiming to drop off their mail-in ballots is palpable and other commentators also weighed in negatively against Abbott’s Thursday decision.

“Now more than ever, in an election during a pandemic, states should be expanding ballot return options not shutting them down,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights via Twitter. “This is ridiculous.”

“Greg Abbott is unilaterally seeking to make it harder for the voters of his state to cast a ballot,” said criminal justice advocate Chris Geidner in a tweet. “Disgusting.”

“Anyone who says today’s Republican Party lacks vision, drive, or creative energy clearly hasn’t paid attention to the groundbreaking work they’re doing in the area of making it harder for black people to vote,” legal opinion journalist Radley Balko commented.

The Lone Star State Republican also suspended a portion of Texas election law that limited the number of days for early voting–effectively increasing the length of the early voting period.

Per Abbott’s immediately controversial proclamation:

I further suspend Section 86.006(a-1) of the Texas Election Code, for any election ordered or authorized to occur on November 3, 2020, to the extent necessary to allow a voter to deliver a marked mail ballot in person to the early voting clerk’s office prior to and including on election day; provided, however, that beginning on October 2, 2020, this suspension applies only when:

(1)the voter delivers the marked mail ballot at a single early voting clerk’s office location that is publicly designated by the early voting clerk for the return of marked mail ballots under Section 86.006(a-1) and this suspension…

The proclamation further limits voting accessibility by mandating that such lone ballot drop-off locations may be overseen by any interested “poll watchers” who county clerks must grant “the opportunity to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.” Poll watchers will also be allowed to demand voter identification.

The governor couched his justification for limiting the number of sites in the electoral fraud narrative that has been promoted by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr.

“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,” Abbott said in a statement announcing the move.

The order takes effect Friday, Oct. 2 and supersedes a previous order from July of this year. The proclamation will add six days in total to the early voting period in Texas and also bypasses a state law that limits mail-in ballot drop-offs only to Election Day.

Notably, the limitations come just days after several GOP activists asked the Texas Supreme Court to stop Harris County’s early voting period in its entirety–by claiming to have accessed “documents corroborating an illegal ballot harvesting operation” connected to the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. That litigation is not expected to go anywhere.

Texas Democrats were somewhat optimistic, however, that the new voting restrictions passed via the executive’s pen would not win out in the end.

“This is how you try to steal an election, folks,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) via Twitter. “It’s not going to work. We will vote. And we will win. No matter how much you try to stop us.”

“Courts all over the country, including the 5th Circuit yesterday, have held that it is too late to change election rules, but our failed Republican leadership will try anyway,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Gov. Abbott and Texas Republicans are scared. We are creating a movement that will beat them at the ballot box on Nov. 3, and there’s nothing these cheaters can do about it.”

[image via Loren Elliott/Getty Images]

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