Texas counties will only be allowed one drop-off location for mail-in ballots, state Supreme Court rules

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The Travis County Tax Office at 5501 Airport Blvd is a drive-thru location for hand delivery of mail ballots in the county. Credit: Amna Ijaz/The Texas Tribune

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In what’s expected to be the final ruling on the matter, the Texas Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting Texas counties to only one drop-off location for voters to hand deliver their absentee ballots during the pandemic.

The ruling, issued Tuesday by the all-Republican court, is the final outcome in one of a handful of lawsuits in state and federal courts that challenged Abbott’s order from early this month. A federal appeals court also sided with the Republican governor in an earlier ruling, overturning a lower court’s decision.

The state lawsuit argued that the governor doesn’t have authority under state law to limit absentee ballot hand-delivery locations, and that his order violates voters’ equal protection rights under the state constitution. The suit was first filed in Travis County by a Texas-based Anti-Defamation League, a voting rights advocacy group and a voter.

In their opinion, the justices wrote that Abbott's order "provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3 election than does the Election Code. It does not disenfranchise anyone."

A Travis County state district judge had sided with the plaintiffs pushing to allow multiple drop-off sites, and that ruling was upheld by an intermediate appeals court Friday. No additional sites had been allowed to open during the appeals process, however.

As the coronavirus continued to endanger Texans, counties — often more populous, largely Democratic ones — began to look for ways to expand voting access in the fall election. Such expansions, like loosening Texas’ strict restrictions on who can vote by mail or allowing for drive-thru voting, have repeatedly been challenged in court by Republicans. The Texas Supreme Court has kept Texas’ limitations on mail-in voting, but allowed drive-thru voting in Harris County to continue.