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Lawsuit seeks to halt Texas governor's changes to mail ballot drop-offs

Civil rights and voter advocacy groups joined together to file a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and other Texas officials over a state policy cutting down the number of ballot drop-off locations. 

The lawsuit, filed late Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, takes aim at a policy announced by Abbott on Thursday that will allow only one mail ballot drop-off location in each of Texas’s 254 counties, effectively shuttering dozens of sites across the Lone Star State.

“For Texas’ absentee voters—including those who had already requested or received their absentee ballot with the expectation that they would be able to use one of many drop-off locations offered by their county—the effect of the October 1 order is to unreasonably burden their ability to vote," the groups argued in the suit. "They will have to travel further distances, face longer waits, and risk exposure to COVID-19, in order to use the single ballot return location in their county.

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“In the midst of an election that is already underway, forcing such new burdens on voters who relied on a different set of election rules to make their voting plan, is unreasonable, unfair, and unconstitutional,” they added.

Besides Abbott, the suit names Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs (R) and election administrators in Harris, Fort Bend, Travis and El Paso counties. It was filed by the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens; the National League of United Latin American Citizens; the League of Women Voters of Texas; and two voters.

Democrats swiftly came out swinging against the order, which heavily reduced the number of drop-off locations in liberal areas. Harris County, which includes Houston, saw 11 sites eliminated. 

“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 Texas Democratic Party said in a statement applauding the lawsuit. 

Abbot has defended the policy, saying it’s necessary to ensure the election’s “integrity.”

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"The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections," he said in a statement. "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. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting." 

Texas is one of a number of Republican-led states that has declined to expand mail-in voting to account for concerns over the coronavirus. To qualify for an absentee ballot, voters must be away from their county of residence during early voting and on Election Day, be sick or disabled or be at least 65 years old. Concerns over the pandemic do not count as a valid reason to receive a ballot in the mail. 

Abbott has already faced lawsuits over a one-week extension to early voting and his efforts to scrap straight-ticket voting.

Texas is home to a number of tight races this cycle, including the presidential race, a close Senate race and a number of House races. Democrats also need to flip just nine state House seats to win control of the chamber.