Federal Judge Issues Late-Night Rejection Of GOP Vote Suppression Attempt

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On October 1, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) issued an order requiring counties to close multiple locations where voters can drop off completed mail-in ballots. Under the order, counties were limited to one drop-off site where poll watchers from both parties would be designated.

On Friday, a federal judge blocked Governor Abbott’s recent order, saying that counties can, in fact, have multiple ballot drop-off locations. According to The Texas Tribune:

‘Saying Abbott’s order confused voters and restricted voter access, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted an injunction late Friday barring its enforcement.’

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Judge Pitman wrote:

‘By limiting ballot return centers to one per county, older and disabled voters living in Texas’s largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted.’

In Texas, to qualify for voting by mail, voters must be 65 or older, confined in jail but otherwise eligible, be out of the county for the election period, or cite a disability. The Texas Supreme Court has said though that lack of immunity to the coronavirus does not constitute a disability in itself. However, voters may consider their medical histories alongside this to determine whether they qualify.

Texas is in the minority of states that do not allow universal mail-in voting during the pandemic. Not only would Abbott’s order impact the elderly and others worried about risks created due to the coronavirus, voting rights advocates have said that having only one available ballot location disproportionately impacts voters of color in the state’s biggest cities.

Prior to Judge Pitman’s ruling on Friday, Democrats had denounced Governor Abbott’s order, labeling it as a voter suppression. Texas has repeatedly been knocked in federal court for intentionally discriminating against voters of color.

The Texas Tribune reported:

‘Voting rights advocates and civic groups quickly sued Abbott in federal court, arguing the order was based on invalid security concerns and places an unconstitutional and unequal burden on the right to vote.’

Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party said:

‘Cutting these mail-in voting locations was wrong and done solely to attempt to steal the election from the rising Texas electorate. A county, like Harris County, with more than 4.7 million Texans should have more than one hand delivery location. Limiting counties like Harris is a desperate Republican attempt to hold onto power.’

The in-person early voting period in Texas was extended by six days in response to the pandemic. Abbott issued an order in July increasing the time span from two weeks, and also allowed mail-in ballots to be delivered by hand at county election offices before election day. Prior to this order, mail-in ballots could only be delivered by hand on Election Day.

This led county clerks in large counties to open up multiple ballot drop-off locations to accommodate an expected influx of hand-delivered ballots. In accordance with Texas election law, one day before the governor’s order, Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins told the Supreme Court that multiple ballot locations could be used, and said:

 ‘accordingly, the Secretary of State has advised local officials that the Legislature has permitted ballots to be returned to any early-voting clerk office.’

Featured image is a screenshot via YouTube