Judge blocks Abbott's order limiting Texas ballot drop-off locations
AUSTIN, Texas - A federal judge has blocked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's order that reduced the number of mail-in ballot drop-off locations to one per county.
Last week Abbott issued a proclamation that his office said will enhance ballot security protocols for the in-person delivery of marked mail ballots for the November 3 election.
Under the proclamation, mail ballots that are delivered in person by voters who are eligible to vote by mail must be delivered to a single early voting clerk’s office location as publicly designated by a county’s early voting clerk.
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However, on Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin halted the order, saying in a 46-page opinion: "the public interest is not served by Texas' continued enforcement of a proclamation plaintiffs have shown likely violates their fundamental right to vote. This factor therefore weighs in favor of a preliminary injunction."
LULAC and the Texas League of Women Voters sued the state over the order, saying it's a political ploy to suppress voters. “If this was a serious concern for him he should have made this decision two or three weeks ago,” said Gavino Fernandez Jr., President of LULAC District 12.
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Shortly after, a non-partisan organization teamed up with a voter and the Anti-Defamation League to sue the governor over the order calling it voter suppression and an abuse of power.
“Just blatant voter suppression. There is really no reason in the world why counties should be limited to one drop off site for mail ballots. All around the country we are seeing vote by mail access expanded, to where they are letting basically anybody vote by mail if they are afraid for their health,” said Anthony Gutierrez with Common Cause Texas.
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Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued a statement following the injunction, saying:
“Governor Abbott’s attempt to suppress Texas voters has been thwarted. Judge Pitman’s common sense order followed well-established law and stopped the governor from making up election rules after the election started. Frankly, it ought to be a shock to all of us that such a ruling is even required.
“This important ruling stands up not just for voters but for the Rule of Law. This isn’t the first time Abbott and Texas Republicans have tried to suppress the vote, and it won’t be the last. The only way to stop these voter suppression attempts is to vote for Democrats up and down the ballot in November.”
RELATED: Critics say Gov. Abbott's recent order is voter suppression
Texas is one of just five states not allowing widespread mail-in voting this year. Polls show unusually tight races in America's biggest red state and Democrats could take over the state House of Representatives for the first time in 20 years.
Harris County, which includes Houston and is home to 5 million people, was forced to close 11 drop-off locations. On Wednesday, the Texas Supreme Court also ruled that Houston elections officials could not send unsolicited mail ballot applications to 2 million registered voters.
Travis County shuttered two two ballot drop-off locations in Austin following Abbott's order.
"This late, last minute edict is bad news for voters and bad news for elections," said a release from the clerk's office last week. "The Travis County Clerk is in discussion with legal counsel to explore all options."
The 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. This proclamation amends a July 27th proclamation that extended the period in which marked mail-in ballots may be delivered in person.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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