Federal judge Robert Pitman, from the District Court for the Western District of Texas, has blocked Gov. Greg Abbot’s proclamation limiting each county in the state to just one ballot drop-off location in this year’s elections.
In his ruling, Pitman rebutted the state government’s arguments that the rule would limit voter confusion and prevent fraud, saying the rule itself was actually sparking confusion and restricting voting access.
Pitman ruled in his 46-page decision that the rule would in fact negatively impact voters by “creating voter confusion … causing absentee voters to travel further distances … causing absentee voters to wait in longer lines … [and] causing absentee voters to risk exposure to the coronavirus when they hand deliver their absentee ballots on Election Day.”
He added that there had been “no evidence of confusion” with the prior rule, which had allowed multiple drop-off sites in each of Texas’s 254 counties.
Pitman also rebuked the state’s arguments that drop-off sites could attract fraud, noting that the state had permitted multiple centers in the past.
“The State’s own approval of counties using satellite ballot return centers on Election Day belies their assertion that those same ballot return centers present ballot security concerns,” he wrote.
The ruling gives Democrats a key win in a competitive state.
Texas is considered to be a toss-up state and down the ballot this year, with polls showing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden trailing President Trump by single digits and competitive contests in the Senate and numerous House races.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) first issued the proclamation earlier this month in a move that would have drastically curtailed the number of drop-off sites in many larger counties that lean Democratic. Harris County, the largest in the state and home to Houston, had assigned a dozen drop-off locations in clerk offices and had already begun collecting votes.
“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,” Abbott said at the time. “These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
The Texas League of United Latin American Citizens, the National League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters of Texas and two Texas residents swiftly followed up with a lawsuit saying it would “unreasonably burden” absentee voters’ ability to cast ballots.
Texas Democrats hailed Friday night’s ruling, accusing Abbott of trying to engage in voter suppression.