In an election year when polls show Texas is more politically competitive than it has been in decades, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation on Thursday that would make it far harder for residents to vote by mail in the 2020 election, setting off widespread criticism and accusations that state Republicans are engaging in voter suppression.
Abbott’s proclamation, which he framed as an effort to enhance election security, will shutter all but one drop-off location for completed mail-in ballots in each of Texas’s 254 counties, severely limiting voters’ access to the polls in many large and populous counties.
In addition to sending their votes via the US Postal Service, Texas voters can drop off their completed mail-in ballots at multiple satellite locations so they immediately and securely reach the county clerk.
But Abbott’s latest move will likely overwhelm not just the single drop-off site in each county but also force voters to travel farther to deliver their ballots.
In Harris County, the state’s most populous county and a Democratic stronghold, 11 of 12 of its drop-off locations will close. In Travis County, another predominantly Democratic county, three of four of its drop-off sites will close.
The fight over voting access in Texas comes as polls show it as a potential swing state this year, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s chances of winning almost equal to President Donald Trump’s.
Abbott’s proclamation is likely to face legal challenges. Marc Elias, a lawyer representing the Democratic Party, said in a tweet they “will explore ALL legal options to ensure voting rights for all Texans.”
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa also accused Abbott of “trying to adjust the rules last minute,” calling the governor and state Republicans “cheaters.”
Wesley Story, a spokesperson for the progressive group Progress Texas, said there is “no legitimate reason” to shut down satellite drop-off locations.
“This is a blatant attempt by Gov. Abbott to suppress voters because the Texas GOP is afraid of the ballot box,” Story said. “Harris County alone has close to five million residents, and to suggest that one drop-off site is sufficient is complete nonsense.”
Texas Republicans have been fighting for months to restrict their constituents’ ability to vote safely in the November election.
It has been especially contentious in Harris County, where the GOP has gone so far as to sue the county clerk, who administers the election, to prevent voters from having more in-person and mail-in options to cast their ballot.
But Texas is not the only state that is mired in a partisan battle over voting access.
State Republicans across the country have also been pushing policies that make it harder for people to vote in the 2020 election. BuzzFeed News also found at least 11 cases where the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are aiding these state efforts in court.