Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced on Thursday that multiple absentee ballot drop-off sites would close the next day, narrowing drop-off to one site per county even in areas home to millions of people.
The biggest reductions in drop-off locations will occur in the fast-growing counties with large cities and suburban areas that are increasingly leaning toward the Democratic Party in a state dominated by Republicans for decades.
Harris County, with a population of 4.7 million, will see its drop-off sites fall from 12 to one. The 1.3 million people who live in Travis County will see their four sites whittled to just one. All over the state, the order could lead to longer commutes and lines to drop off ballots.
This supersedes a previous order Abbott issued that allowed counties to operate multiple drop-off. The order also states that poll watchers must be allowed to observe this single drop-off location.
“Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Governor Abbott is trying to change the rules last minute,” Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement.
Texas is one of the very few states that has not allowed all voters to request an absentee ballot based on fear of the coronavirus pandemic. Texans must either be 65 years or older, have a significant disability or be in another location on election day to qualify for an absentee ballot even during the pandemic. That means the reduction in drop-off sites will specifically make it more difficult for senior citizens to return their ballots in person.
Thursday’s order reducing ballot drop-off locations comes as Texas Republicans sue Abbott in court to block his initial order, which expanded early voting and absentee ballot drop-offs. The original July 27 order moved the beginning of early voting to Oct. 13 in order to ease crowding at in-person vote sites on Election Day and allowed counties to operate absentee ballot drop-off sites. This was a measure meant to respond to the pandemic that has killed more than 16,000 Texans.
Abbott may soon find himself facing a lawsuit from the other side. Marc Elias, the top election lawyer for the Democratic Party and its allied groups, threatened to respond to the governor’s Thursday order with a lawsuit to keep more than one drop-off site per county open.
While the presidential election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is closer in Texas than any since the 1990s, the major focus is on control of the Texas House of Representatives. Democrats need to win nine seats in the Texas House to win control. Such a victory would deprive Republicans of total control over the state’s redistricting process.
Democrats are also targeting 10 national House seats currently held by Republicans and looking to defeat Sen. John Cornyn (R).