Order allowing Texas counties to have multiple mail-in ballot drop off sites is upheld, but appeal halts openings
The state is continuing to fight a Travis County district court's ruling that overrode Gov. Greg Abbott's order limiting counties to one absentee ballot drop-off location.
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A state appeals court on Friday upheld a Travis County State district court order allowing Texas counties to have multiple drop-off locations for hand delivery of absentee ballots, undercutting Gov. Greg Abbott's recent directive limiting counties to one drop-off site.
But the intermediate court's decision will not yet lead to the reopening of ballot drop-off locations that were shut down in Harris and Travis counties after Abbott's order. Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs immediately appealed the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, which at least temporarily blocked the order from taking effect Saturday morning.
The lawsuit, filed in Travis County, is one of several state and federal court challenges to Abbott’s Oct. 1 order, which shut down three ballot drop-off locations in Travis County and 11 in Harris County and halted plans for more drop-offs in other counties. Last week, a federal appeals court upheld the Republican governor’s order under federal law, overturning a lower court’s ruling.
Voting in Texas
When was the last day to register to vote?
The deadline to register to vote in the 2020 general election was Oct. 5. Check if you’re registered to vote here. If not, you’ll need to fill out and submit an application, which you can request here or download here.
When can I vote early?
Early voting for the 2020 general election runs from Oct. 13 to Oct. 30. Voters can cast ballots at any polling location in the county where they are registered to vote during early voting. Election Day is Nov. 3.
How will voting be different because of the pandemic?
In general, polling locations will have guidelines in place for social distancing and regular cleaning. Several counties will offer ballot marking devices so voters avoid contact with election equipment. Poll workers will likely be wearing face masks and other protective equipment, but masks will not be required for voters.
How do I know if I qualify to vote by mail?
Texas is one of just a few states that hasn’t opened up mail-in voting to any voter concerned about getting COVID-19 at a polling place. You can find eligibility requirements and review other questions about voting by mail here.
Are polling locations the same on Election Day as they are during early voting?
Not always. You’ll want to check for open polling locations with your local elections office before you head out to vote. Additionally, you can confirm with your county elections office whether Election Day voting is restricted to locations in your designated precinct or if you can cast a ballot at any polling place.
Can I still vote if I have COVID-19?
Yes. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms, consider requesting an emergency mail-in ballot or using curbside voting. Contact your county elections office for more details about both options.
- See our voter guide
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The Travis County lawsuit argued that Abbott’s order violated state law. Brought by a Texas-based Anti-Defamation League, a voting rights advocacy group and a voter, the suit argued that the governor doesn’t have authority under state law to limit absentee ballot hand-delivery locations, and that his order violates voters’ equal protection rights under the state constitution.
Last week, Travis County State District Judge Tim Sulak agreed, ruling against Abbott’s order.
“The limitation to a single drop-off location for mail ballots would likely needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections, and needlessly and unreasonably substantially burden potential voters’ constitutionally protected rights to vote, as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things,” Sulak wrote.
Abbott and Hughs quickly appealed the ruling, pausing it from going into effect while the appeals court reviewed the case.
As the coronavirus led to concerns for voter safety, Abbott issued an emergency order in July lengthening the early voting period and extending the time voters have to deliver completed absentee ballots in person to county clerk offices. But after large Democratic counties, including Harris and Travis, established several county sites where voters could deliver their ballots, Abbott issued his order limiting such drop-off locations to one per county.
Texas does not have drop-off boxes, as have been implemented in other states. Instead, to drop off a mail-in ballot in person at any location, voters must present an approved form of identification to a poll worker, and voters may not turn in any one else’s ballot.
In their appeal, Abbott and Hughs said the limiting order was enacted after Hughs learned that at least one county planned to accept hand-delivered absentee ballot applications at invalid county offices. The state also wanted poll watchers to be at each site accepting such ballots.
Multiple voting right groups quickly challenged the governor's limiting order, and three Democratic chairs of high-profile congressional committees called the move an apparent "last-ditch effort to suppress Texans’ ability to vote."
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