Federal judge blocks Texas governor’s order limiting mail ballot drop-off locations

A federal judge in Texas on Friday barred officials from enforcing Governor Greg Abbott’s order that would limit the number of mail in voting drop off boxes to one per county. Civil rights and voting rights groups sued Abbott over the order last week. 

Abbott said the move was designed to “strengthen voting safety in Texas.” But Judge Robert Pitman said the directive imposed a “burden on an already vulnerable voting population that is somewhere between ‘slight’ and ‘severe.'”

“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,” Pitman said. 

Abbott’s order, which was issued last week, was criticized by officials in some of Texas’ largest counties who were planning to set up multiple drop off locations in order to make it easier to return mail ballots. Harris County, a 1,777-square-mile region that’s home to Houston and is the country’s third largest county, had established 11 drop off locations before the governor issued his order. 

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In a previous court filing, the Harris County Clerk noted that the lone drop off site “could be more than fifty miles away” for some voters. Some activists also raised concerns that the reduced locations could disproportionately affect low-income voters and voters of color.

While Pitman acknowledged his ruling may lead to more confusion, he said Abbott’s order already confused voters who may have gone to a site they expected to be open but was instead closed. He said opening those sites back up would make it easier to vote.

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