HOUSTON – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order Thursday that limits the number of places voters can drop-off their mail-in ballots to one per county.
Abbott said mail ballots can be dropped off in-person at only one place that is designated by each county’s early-voting clerk.
The order also requires clerks to allow poll watchers to observe activity conducted at the drop-off location related to the delivery of marked mail ballots.
“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,” Abbott said in a written statement. “These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
The governor’s order is effective Friday.
The Harris County Clerk’s Office has originally planned to allow voters to drop off their completed mail-in ballots at any of the Harris County Clerk Annex locations and NRG Arena.
After Abbott’s order on limiting mail-in ballot drop-off locations, local Democratic leaders noted the restriction as voter suppression.
Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said the governor’s “previous previous proclamation gave voters more options to vote safely during the global pandemic and alleviated concerns over mail delivery to ensure that every vote is counted.”
Hollins, who is responsible for the voting process in Harris County, said he applauded Abbott for those efforts, but his latest move goes “back on his word.” He added that the change will result in “widespread confusion and voter suppression."
“Many mail ballots have already been dropped off by voters across Harris County, and multiple drop-off locations have been advertised for weeks,” Hollins said. "Our office is more than willing to accommodate poll watchers at mail ballot drop-off locations. 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.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued this statement Friday on his Facebook page:
“Growing up, I was bused over 20 miles as a student in the first integrated class at Klein High School. Because of the Governor’s decision today, I would now have to go even farther to drop off an absentee ballot and make sure my vote is counted.”
“Harris County is the 3rd largest county in the United States, and Houston is the 4th largest city in the country. Reducing the number of mail-in ballot drop-off sites from 11 to one is a direct attempt at voter suppression.”
“We should be focused on making voting more accessible and stop trying to create obstacles and distractions with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.”
Harris County is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, and we're supposed to have 1 site? This isn't security, it's suppression. Mail ballot voters shouldn't have to drive 30 miles to drop off their ballot, or rely on a mail system that’s facing cutbacks. https://t.co/IeKwzdB0Hb— Lina Hidalgo (@LinaHidalgoTX) October 1, 2020
In a series of tweets Thursday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said: “This isn’t security, it’s suppression.” She said voters shouldn’t have to drive 30 miles to drop off their mail-in ballots or rely on a mail system that’s facing cutbacks.
“This has nothing to do with election security, because ballot drop sites require photo ID,” she said.
Hidalgo continued: “A political party whose election strategy is to suppress turnout doesn’t deserve to win.”
A few minutes after Fort Bend County announced its opening of satellite elections offices for voters to drop off completed mail-in ballots, Governor Abbott banned these sites. Apparent attempts to suppress the vote like this one prove that American democracy is on the ballot. pic.twitter.com/W3jdYKxLPk— County Judge KP George (@JudgeKPGeorge) October 1, 2020
Prior to the Gov. order, Fort Bend County Judge KP George announced a plan to open satellite elections offices for voters to drop off completed mail-in ballots. However, minutes later, Abbott’s orders banned those sites.
“Apparent attempts to suppress the vote like this one prove that American democracy is on the ballot,” he said.
Sarah Labowitz, the policy & advocacy director for the ACLU of Texas, also responded to the change.
“We are dismayed that the governor of Texas decided to curtail the ability of Texans to cast their ballots safely in the middle of a pandemic by limiting the number of drop-off sites per county. While the governor asserts that he is attempting to ‘strengthen ballot security,’ we see this as yet another thinly disguised attempt to stymie the vote. As is well documented, Texas has a voter suppression problem, not a ballot security problem. The governor should work with counties to ensure that all timely mailed ballots are received and counted, and that all voters appearing at polling places to submit ballots or vote are free from harassment.”
This developing story will be updated.