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.


Photo of nurses offering drive-thru vaccines
Appointments no longer needed for drive-thru vaccines at Circuit of the Americas

From April 23-25, people age 16 and up can receive first doses of the Pfizer vaccine without an appointment at COTA.

Austin ISD staff at Pleasant Hill Elementary School distribute meals over the summer in 2020. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD to again offer free lunch to students during 2021-22 school year

Austin ISD has distributed more than 3 million free campus meals and 4.2 million free curbside meals since March 2020.

Q2 Stadium in North Austin
Q2 Stadium to host 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup games this summer

Q2 Stadium has been selected as one of the venues for the upcoming 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament.

I-35 at US 183 flyovers
Watch for new traffic patterns on I-35 in North Austin as TxDOT opens new flyovers, closes existing ramp

Drivers trying to connect to northbound US 183 from northbound I-35 will have to take a detour beginning April 26.

The Barks for Beers fundraiser will return to Central Texas in May. (Courtesy Divine Canines)
To-do list: Barks for beers returns to Austin and more local events happening through the end of May

Here are nine events taking place between April 24 and May 31 in Austin.

Austin City Council members met for a work session April 20 ahead of the body's regular April 22 session. (Screenshot via city of Austin)
Austin City Hall notebook: Police services decoupling, rental assistance, downtown density bonus fees under consideration

Council will also consider a resolution that would ask state agencies to begin the distribution of about $18 billion in federal aid money aimed at supporting K-12 education.

The Austin Downtown Alliance shared its 2021 State of Downtown report and new recovery and resiliency plan April 21. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Downtown resiliency plan takes aim at Central Austin storefronts, public spaces, homelessness strategy

Officials with the Downtown Austin Alliance shared details on two new reports analyzing the city center's past year and pandemic recovery plans April 21.

As part of President Joe Biden’s plan to reopen schools safely nationwide, the department’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option is being expanded beyond the summertime. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
USDA extends free school meals provision through 2021-22 school year

Schools nationwide will be able to serve nutritious meals to all students free of charge regardless of eligibility through June 30, 2022, officials announced.

Austin government, nonprofit and business leaders recently participated in a weeks-long summit centered on unsheltered homelessness in the city. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plan to house 3,000 homeless individuals in Austin in the next three years would cost $515 million

The plan Austin City Council members discussed April 20 emerged from a weekslong community-wide summit on homelessness.

Photo of Zilker Park
Travis County establishes Civilian Climate Corps to tackle environmental projects

The program will create opportunities for residents to work on projects including wildfire prevention, solar energy promotion and park cleanups.

Residents march to the Texas Capitol in protests after the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Austin leaders react to Derek Chauvin guilty verdict

The former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd in May 2020.

Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard speaks to reporters March 13 at the Delco Actiity Center in Northeast Austin. Residents can walk up to the Delco Center on April 22 and 23 and receive vaccines without an appointment. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Public Health will accept walk-up vaccinations at the Delco Activity Center starting April 22

APH will also leave its registration portal open throughout most of the week.