AUSTIN, TEXAS – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered counties to have only one mail-in ballot drop-off site, shuttering dozens of locations in some of the state’s largest cities and key Democratic strongholds just as voters started to return ballots.
Abbott called his order a move to enhance poll security, while Democrats blasted it as a naked effort to suppress voters.
Beginning Friday, mail ballots delivered in person by eligible voters can be delivered to locations designated by each county’s early voting clerk. There will be no more than one drop-off location per county. Poll watchers may observe in-person ballot deliveries at each location.
“These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting,” Abbott said.
Harris County, which includes Houston, had 12 drop-off locations for the county’s more than 2 million registered voters as of September. Travis County, which includes the state capital, Austin, had four. Harris County covers an area of more than 1,700 square miles, while Travis County stretches over more than 1,000 square miles. Other counties are individually as large as 6,000 square miles — larger than Connecticut. Texas has 254 counties.
The U.S. Postal Service informed Texas in July that given the state’s current mail ballot request deadline, some ballots may not be delivered to voters by Election Day, and that even if all ballots reached voters on time, there was a “significant risk” that completed ballots postmarked on or near Election Day would not be received by the state’s Nov. 4 deadline.
The Texas Secretary of State’s Office has not responded to requests for comment on its plans to ensure the timely delivery of ballots.
Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said he had applauded Abbott’s July proclamation allowing voters to drop off their mail ballots before Election Day because it “gave voters more options to vote safely during the global pandemic and alleviated concerns over mail delivery.” He said Abbott’s reversal will harm voters and lead to widespread confusion and voter suppression.
“Our office is more than willing to accommodate poll watchers at mail ballot drop-off locations,” Hollins said. “But to force hundreds of thousands of seniors and voters with disabilities to use a single drop-off location in a county that stretches over nearly 2,000 square miles is prejudicial and dangerous.”
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said on Twitter, “This isn’t security, it’s suppression.”
Polls show unusually tight races this year in the red state, intensifying battles over voting access. Texas is one of just five states not allowing widespread mail-in voting this year. Abbott has resisted calls to expand eligibility, and courts have sided with GOP leaders who say fear of COVID-19 doesn’t qualify voters for mail-in ballots.