THE LATEST: Texas counties allowed only 1 drop-off location for absentee ballots after court of appeals grants temporary stay

Gov. Greg Abbott's Oct. 1 order for one absentee ballot collection location per Texas county is again in effect after a temporary stay issued by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Screenshot of April 17 press conference)
Gov. Greg Abbott's Oct. 1 order for one absentee ballot collection location per Texas county is again in effect after a temporary stay issued by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Screenshot of April 17 press conference)

Gov. Greg Abbott's Oct. 1 order for one absentee ballot collection location per Texas county is again in effect after a temporary stay issued by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Screenshot of April 17 press conference)

UPDATE: 8:22 p.m. Oct. 11: The United States Fifth Circuit Courts of Appeals acted on an emergency filing by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Oct. 10, granting a temporary stay and halting the Oct. 9 U.S. District Court ruling allowing counties to have more than one location for absentee ballot drop offs. The stay means Texas counties will be allowed to only have one location while the court considers Paxton's filing.

"I commend the Fifth Circuit for temporarily staying the district court's unlawful injunction while it considers our request for a full stay pending appeal," Paxton said in a release from his office. "This ensures that the governor's proclamation remains in effect."

UPDATE: 3:22 p.m. Oct. 10: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an emergency motion asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for a temporary administrative stay while considering the state's appeal. Paxton's filing is an appeal against U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman's decision late Oct. 9 to grant a preliminary injunction that would allow counties to offer multiple sites for collection of absentee ballots. The district judge's decision overruled Gov. Greg Abbott's Oct. 1 proclamation and came on the heels of two lawsuits filed against the governor's order.

"While many counties have only one location at which mail-in ballots may be hand-delivered, several counties, including Harris, Travis and Fort Bend, recently announced plans to open multiple mail-in ballot delivery locations at satellite offices or annexes," Paxton's 21-page appeal stated. "But it soon became clear that these counties would not provide adequate election security, including poll watchers, at these annexes. These inconsistencies impede the uniform conduct of the election and introduce a risk to ballot integrity, such as increasing the possibility of ballot harvesting."

In a release from the attorney general's office, Paxton said, "The district court's order undermines our election security, disrupts the democratic process, and will only lead to voter confusion. It cannot stand. Mail-in ballots are particularly vulnerable to fraud. Protections that ensure their security must be upheld and my office will continue to fight for safe, free and fair elections."

Paxton requested the stay pending appeal no later than 9 a.m. Oct. 13, the first day of early voting at the polls in Texas. He asked for an immediate administrative stay while the court considers the motion.

This story will be updated as more details are available.

Original story

An Oct. 1 proclamation by Texas Gov. Greg Abbot to limit absentee ballot drop-off locations to one per county was blocked by a preliminary injunction late Oct. 9 in U.S. District Court in Austin.

Following the governor’s order, several Texas groups and individual voters, including the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens and the League of Women Voters of Texas, filed a lawsuit against Abbott.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled Abbott’s order to close ballot return centers just days before the start of early voting has already impacted voters or will impact voters by creating voter confusion; causing absentee voters to travel further distances and wait in longer lines; causing voters to risk exposure to the coronavirus when they hand deliver their absentee ballots on Election Day; and risking their ballots not being counted if the U.S. Postal Service is unable to timely deliver their ballots, according to the 46-page ruling.

Abbott’s order on Oct. 1 gave county clerks one day to close multiple ballot drop-off locations, including more than a dozen announced in Harris and Travis counties, which include Houston and Austin, respectively.

The order, according to Abbott, was to “enhance ballot security protocols.”

“The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” the governor said in the Oct. 1 press release. “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.”

The plaintiffs argued Abbott’s order posed a challenge to those living “in larger more populous counties, such as Harris County, where the lone ballot return center could be more than 50 miles away from a voter."

“These burdens fall disproportionately on voters who are elderly, disabled, or live in larger counties,” according to the filing.

In Texas, voters are eligible for ballot by mail if they are 65 years or older, sick or disabled, will be out of the county on Election Day and during early voting, or are confined to jail, according to the secretary of state.

In his injunction, Pitman said Abbott’s order not only affects voters, but also “directly burdens election officials."

“Here, the public interest is not served by Texas’s continued enforcement of a proclamation plaintiffs have shown likely violates their fundamental right to vote,” Pitman wrote. “This factor therefore weighs in favor of a preliminary injunction.”
By Joe Warner
Joe Warner is executive editor of Community Impact Newspaper. He previously served as managing editor for Central Texas and senior editor of the flagship Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto newspaper. He came to Central Texas from Metro Detroit, where he was editor and general manager of several daily and weekly publications. He is the former president of the Michigan Press Association and was on the MPA board of directors for nine years.


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