With only a month before Election Day, a legal battle is erupting in Texas over an order this week by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to limit the number of drop-off locations for voters to cast absentee ballots.
Voter-advocacy groups moved swiftly to block the order with a lawsuit asserting that the limited access would disenfranchise many of the state’s most vulnerable voters, depriving them of the opportunity to vote absentee rather than risk exposure to Covid-19.
The order, which applies to the entire state, would limit each county to just one drop-off location. It has provoked an intense pushback in Texas’s most populous counties, including Harris, where Houston is located, and Travis, home to Austin. The lawsuit said that voters in those counties, both of which lean Democratic, will now be forced to “travel further distances, face longer waits and risk exposure” to the virus to mail their ballots at a single location.
Attorney General Ken Paxton is “evaluating the issue” and is poised to “aggressively defend” Mr. Abbott’s order, said Kayleigh Date, a spokeswoman.
The 19-page petition, which asks a federal judge in Austin to strike down the order as “unreasonable, unfair and unconstitutional,” was filed by the Texas and National League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters of Texas and two voters who said they would be disenfranchised by Mr. Abbott’s order.
Ralph Edelbach, 82, who lives in Cypress, near Houston, said the closure of all but one of the 11 designated mail-in sites in Harris County will force him to drive 36 miles to drop off his absentee ballot. Before the order, the nearest location was 16 miles away, the lawsuit said. Barbara Mason, a 71-year-old resident of Austin, said she worries that the increased driving time will ‘“unnecessarily expose” her to Covid-19.
The plaintiffs contended that Mr. Abbott’s order will also pose additional obstacles to voters of color.
Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, described Abbott’s order as “voter suppression, plain and simple.”
John Wittman, the governor’s spokesman said in an email that Mr. Abbott, instead of limiting voting access, has “expanded access to voting” by increasing the time period during which voters can submit their ballots.
“The additional time provided for those who want to submit their mail-in ballot in person is sufficient to accommodate the limited number of people who have traditionally used that voting strategy,” Mr. Wittman said.