“The impact of this eleventh-hour decisions is momentous, targets Texas’ most vulnerable voters — older voters, and voters with disabilities — and results in wild variations in access to absentee voting drop-off locations depending on the county a voter resides in,” the lawsuit stated. “It also results in predictable disproportionate impacts on minority communities . . . already hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis.”
It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas by the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center on behalf of the Texas and national League of United Latin American Citizens groups, as well as the state chapter of the League of Women Voters and two individual voters.
The legal action came hours after Abbott issued his order, a move that Democrats and voting rights advocates decried, saying it was aimed at suppressing the vote and warning it could hurt populous cities that are Democratic strongholds.
Abbott said having a single drop-off location per county is necessary for “ballot security,” echoing unfounded claims by President Trump about the risks of voting by mail.
“The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” the governor said in a statement Thursday, adding, “These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott, declined to comment on why the governor considers multiple drop-off locations to be less secure. Experts say there is no evidence that mail voting will lead to widespread election fraud, as Trump as repeatedly asserted.
In a statement, Wittman also asserted that Abbott “has not limited voting — instead he has expanded access to voting.” He argued that the governor’s executive order allowed voters to turn in their mail ballot anytime leading up to Election Day, claiming this was not previously allowed under Texas law.
Abbott’s order states that voters casting mail ballots can return them to a “single early voting clerk’s office location.” That meant election officials in several heavily populated Texas counties had to shutter existing drop-off locations that had been opened to make it easier for voters to cast mail ballots.
The order also allows poll watchers to observe the drop-off process.
The clerk of Harris County — the state’s most populous county, with more than 4.7 million residents — said the governor’s order “is confusing to voters and will serve to suppress Texas votes, plain and simple.”
“Make no mistake, this is intentional,” Democrat Chris Hollins said at a news conference Friday. “This is being done to make it more difficult for you to vote. But I urge you — do not be discouraged. If every voter only takes away one thing from today, I want it to be that your vote is your voice in our democracy.”
Comprising 254 counties and more than 260,000 square miles of land, area-wise Texas is the largest of the Lower 48 states. More than 70 of its counties exceed 1,000 square miles; the largest, Brewster County, contains roughly 6,200 square miles.
Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, said in a statement that in Harris County, “reducing 11 drop off locations to only 1 severely limits voting access and forces people to choose between voting and their health.” The county, which includes Houston, comprises 1,777 square miles.
He called Abbott’s order “blatant voter suppression and yet another way the politicians in charge are putting barriers between Texans and the ballot box.”
“With last-minute changes and pending litigation, it is increasingly clear that confusion in Texas elections is part of a pattern of voter suppression,” he said.
Under Texas law, only a limited number of voters can vote by mail this fall — those who are 65 or older, disabled, in jail or traveling outside their county of residence during early voting and on Election Day.
The suit filed Thursday is the latest development in a broader legal conflict between Republicans and voting rights advocates, who have partnered with Democrats in Texas and throughout the country in efforts to loosen restrictions on mail voting during the pandemic.
Other legal challenges to Abbott’s order may follow. Republicans for the Rule of Law, a group of anti-Trump conservatives, is also interested in joining the battle against the order, the group told The Washington Post on Thursday.