Far be it from us to be cynical, but that may help explain a proclamation released by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Thursday. At its heart, the order will mandate that counties reduce the number of locations where voters can drop off ballots to no more than one, ostensibly in an effort to foster an “enhanced ballot security protocol.” In other words, to combat purported voter fraud.
Regular Post readers will understand both that such “enhancements” are unnecessary, given both the rarity of voter fraud and the breadth of measures already in place aimed at eliminating illegal voting. Regular readers will also assume that Abbott’s move is the latest in a long-standing pattern of citing alleged and unproven concerns about fraud as a rationale for limiting the ability to vote in a way that disproportionately affects Democratic voters.
As Abbott’s proclamation clearly would.
Consider two metrics: the density of White voters in a county and the margin of the county’s presidential vote in 2016. Most counties in Texas have more White than non-White residents; most counties also voted for Trump in 2016 by a wide margin.
Yet the counties that are less densely White and that were less fervently supportive of Trump are also the ones where the population per drop-off location is on average the highest. In counties that are only about 30 percent White, for example, the population is, on average, 722,000. In counties that Trump lost by about 30 points, the average population tops 1 million. Counties he won by 30 points, though, have an average population of 69,000.
That same pattern holds when looking only at the voters in the counties. Less densely White counties — counties that are therefore more likely to vote more heavily Democratic — have far more voters who might be competing to turn in ballots at that single drop-off location than do counties that are more densely White or that voted more heavily for Trump in 2016.
What’s more, counties that are more White and voted more heavily for Trump are also smaller on average, meaning the proximity of the single drop-off location will likely be closer than for less-White and less-Trump-friendly places.
Overall, the pattern is consistent. There are more counties that are majority White, which probably have more currently registered Republicans than Democrats (according to data from L2, a political data firm) and which backed Trump in 2016.
But it’s the counties that are majority-minority — which probably have more registered Democrats than Republicans and which voted for Hillary Clinton four years ago — where the populations are larger on average, where the number of voters per drop-off location would be higher and where the counties are more expansive.
It’s hard to imagine that this is an accident. The Texas Democratic Party doesn’t seem to think it is; it reportedly plans to sue to stop Abbott’s order from being implemented.
Consider what Abbott’s change means for Houston’s Harris County, where there are currently 12 drop-off sites. There is now one drop-off site for every 190,000 voters, a figure that balloons to one for every 2.3 million voters should Abbott’s order go into force. There’s one drop-off location for every 142 square miles of the county, on average.
That 190,000-voter figure is about equivalent to the number of voters in Bell County. That 142 square miles is a bit less than the size of Rockwall County. Right now, then, it’s about as easy to drop off a ballot in Harris County — which backed Clinton by 12 points in 2016 — as it will be following Abbott’s order in two counties that backed Trump by 15 and 47 points, respectively.
The order would make that substantially harder.
Lenny Bronner contributed to this report.