Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday restricted the number of locations where voters can drop off mail-in ballots, adding a potentially cumbersome hurdle to the process just weeks before Election Day.
An executive order from the governor says that there can only be one location per county where voters can drop off their mail-in ballots.
Abbott’s order also requires that clerks at early voting locations “allow poll watchers to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.”
That requirement includes allowing poll watchers to observe the presentation of voters’ identification, Abbott’s order specifies. The order takes effect on Friday.
“The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” Abbott said in a statement accompanying the order.
“As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
According to the Austin-American Statesman’s Chuck Lindell, who first reported Abbott’s order Thursday, the restriction will severely cut down options for dropping off ballots in the state’s largest counties: Harris County currently has 12 locations where voters can drop off ballots. Travis County has four.
In a statement slamming the change, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa accused Abbott of trying to change election rules at the last minute because “Republicans are on the verge of losing.”
“Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans are scared,” he said. “We are creating a movement that will beat them at the ballot box on November 3, and there’s nothing these cheaters can do about it.”
Voters’ options for dropping off mail-in ballots have become a flashpoint in the legal fights over election rules in the pandemic. The Trump campaign has sued to block the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania, a key swing state, while state GOP officials in Ohio have sought to limit the counties from setting up more than one ballot drop off location per county.
These moves have come amid anxiety about the U.S. Postal Service and the changes to its operations imposed by the new Trump-aligned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
Texas has been extremely resistant to measures that would make voting easier during the pandemic — but Abbott had extended in person early voting by a week and allowed for mail ballots to be dropped off early as well. Prominent Texas Republicans have gone to court to undo the extension of in person early voting.
The latest move will limit the options Texas voters who live in large and sprawling counties have to return mail-ballots in person. By population, Harris County — home to Houston — is larger than several states.
Now, under Abbott’s order, it will have just one ballot drop off location.
In a statement, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins accused Abbott of “going back on his word” by imposing new restrictions on voting options he previously approved.
Tuesday’s proclamation “will result in widespread confusion and voter suppression,” Hollis said, while noting that for weeks his county has advertised the multiple locations.
“Our office is more than willing to accommodate poll watchers at mail ballot drop-off locations,” Hollins said. “But to force hundreds of thousands of seniors and voters with disabilities to use a single drop-off location in a county that stretches over nearly 2,000 square miles is prejudicial and dangerous.”
This post has been updated.