AUSTIN (KXAN) — A lawsuit has been filed against Gov. Greg Abbott and county election officials in Texas after the governor issued a proclamation that limits each county to one ballot drop-off location.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas by the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens, National League of United Latin American Citizens, League of Women Voters of Texas, and two voters.
“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 lawsuit reads. “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.”
Abbott announced the proclamation on Thursday in order to “maintain the integrity of our elections.” Earlier that day, the Travis County Clerk’s Office had opened four drop-off locations, while the Harris County Clerk’s Office planned to open 12 locations.
For Friday, the drop-off location at 5501 Airport Boulevard will be the only location open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to voters looking to personally deliver their ballots, the office said.
Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allan West called Abbott’s proclamation “very important,” while West and other state Republicans are suing Abbott to stop his extension of early voting.
The Governor’s Office issued a statement in response to the lawsuit on Friday, saying Abbott expanded voting access by expanding the period that mail-in ballots can be dropped off before Election Day:
“The Governor has not limited voting—instead he has expanded access to voting. Before the Governor’s executive order, Texans who wanted to vote by mail could either mail their ballot or submit it in person on Election Day only. Because of COVID-19, the governor’s executive order increased the time period during which voters can submit their mail in ballot in person to include anytime leading up to Election Day. That time period did not exist under current law. Moreover, the only ballots subject to this order are mail in ballots. Most of those ballots are in fact submitted by mail. 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.”Statement from Gov. Greg Abbott’s Office
Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) told KXAN that the governor’s proclamation to limit counties to only one mail-in ballot drop-off location was made after state leaders received “reports from the field” of individuals attempting to drop off more than one mail-in ballot.
In one case in Bexar County, Bonnen said he was told of a man attempting to drop off “as many as 40” mail-in ballots.
“The problem is when that individual was told he could only turn in one ballot that matched him, he threw those ballots on the ground and wandered away.”
Bexar County was not impacted by Abbott’s proclamation, as it only ever had one drop off location. KXAN was unable to reach the Bexar County election administrator to confirm the report.
County election officials are required, by law, to reject dropped off mail-in ballots that are not delivered by the individual voter. Voters cannot deliver mail-in ballots for anyone other than themselves.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said there is no evidence that mail-in ballot drop off locations are subject to an increased risk of election fraud.
“There’s no connection to the talk, the noise, about that somehow dropping off your ballot was going to be particularly fraudulent,” DeBeauvoir said. “That’s silly.”
Travis County has received more than 72,000 requests for a mail-in ballot for the November election. In 2016, the county sent out 27,000 mail-in ballots.