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In what’s expected to be the final ruling on the matter, the Texas Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting Texas counties to only one drop-off location for voters to hand deliver their absentee ballots during the pandemic.
The ruling, issued Tuesday by the all-Republican court, is the final outcome in one of a handful of lawsuits in state and federal courts that challenged Abbott’s order from early this month. A federal appeals court also sided with the Republican governor in an earlier ruling, overturning a lower court’s decision.
The state lawsuit 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. The suit was filed in Travis County by a Texas-based Anti-Defamation League, a voting rights advocacy group and a voter.
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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In their opinion, the justices wrote that Abbott's order "provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3 election than does the Election Code. It does not disenfranchise anyone."
A Travis County state district judge had sided with the plaintiffs pushing to allow multiple drop-off sites, and an intermediate appeals court upheld that ruling Friday. No additional sites had been allowed to open during the appeals process, however.
As the coronavirus continued to endanger Texans, counties — often more populous, largely Democratic ones — began to look for ways to expand voting access in the fall election. Republicans have repeatedly challenged such expansions, like loosening Texas’ strict restrictions on who can vote by mail or allowing for drive-thru voting, in court. The Texas Supreme Court has kept Texas’ limitations on mail-in voting but allowed drive-thru voting in Harris County to continue.
Abbott issued an emergency order in July that lengthened the early voting period and extended the time voters have to deliver completed absentee ballots in person to county clerk offices. In typical elections, Texas voters who wish to deliver their absentee ballots in person can only do so on Election Day. That order, too, was unsuccessfully challenged by some Republicans, but ultimately Abbott rolled back his expansion for hand delivery of absentee ballots.
After Harris and Travis counties opened 12 and four drop-off sites at county clerk offices, respectively, the governor issued a new order Oct. 1 allowing counties just one drop-off location each. Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Ruth 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 at each site accepting such ballots.
Texas does not have drop-off boxes for absentee ballots, as do some 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.
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."
The litigation, one of a plethora on voting access in Texas during the fall election, was settled Tuesday evening with three days left of early voting. Election Day is Nov. 3.
Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.