AUSTIN (KXAN) — As early voting begins Tuesday, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided late Monday night Texas counties will have only one place to drop off their mail-in ballots.
The panel of three judges—all President Donald Trump appointees—sided with Gov. Greg Abbott. They upheld his Oct. 1 proclamation that shuttered all but one drop-off site in each county.
The governor says it was aimed at providing security against potential voter fraud. Opponents of his policy say it’s rooted in voter suppression.
Judges said overall, the governor’s policy this fall actually expanded absentee and mail-in voting options. In July, Gov. Abbott extended early voting by six days and allowed people to drop off their mail-in ballots at any point before or on Election Day.
But he chose not to allow anyone to get absentee ballots, something many county clerks and public health leaders said would have been the safest option.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said the governor’s order “refines” where people can drop off ballots but does not restrict voting rights.
Even with the decision to uphold the proclamation, Judge James C. Ho sharply criticized Gov. Abbott in his concurring opinion saying the governor should have left it up to the state legislature to make election changes, including the July 27 proclamation expanding early voting.
“Under the Constitution, it is the state legislature—not the governor or federal judges—that is authorized to establish the rules that govern the election of each state’s Presidential electors, U.S. Senators, and U.S. Representatives,” Judge Ho wrote.
“So the Governor’s actions in this case should trouble you regardless of whether you agree or disagree with any of his actions as a policy matter,” he added.
Multiple groups filed a lawsuit after the governor’s Oct. 1 proclamation in order to restore the counties’ ability to have multiple drop-off sites. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman agreed and overturned the proclamation, only to have Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton file an emergency stay on that decision to let the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals weigh in on the case.
A group part of the lawsuit, the League of United Latin American Citizens, plans to appeal the Fifth Circuit ruling with the U.S. Supreme Court, according to its general counsel Luis Vera, Jr. Vera told KXAN Tuesday the organization plans to file as soon as Wednesday morning, if not Tuesday evening.
The Republican Party of Texas, among others, also filed a lawsuit against Gov. Abbott’s July 27 proclamation. The Texas Supreme Court upheld that proclamation Oct. 7 since the election process was already underway and the lawsuit challenging it came 10 weeks after the proclamation was issued.
Gov. Abbott responded via Twitter following the appeals court decision, saying in part critics of the proclamation were “completely clueless.”
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir spoke with KXAN reporter Candy Rodriguez about the decision Monday morning, and said it was “a disappointing decision for voters.”
“He should opened up mail voting to everybody,” she said. “That would have been the safest way to vote.”