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.


MOST RECENT

Early voting at the Ben Hur Shrine Temple
Some Austin-area polling locations have recorded 10,000-plus votes through first week of early voting

Three Williamson County polling locations have each reported more than 10,000 ballots cast in the first week of early voting.

Capital Metro celebrated the opening of a renovated and expanded downtown Austin MetroRail hub Oct. 19. (Courtesy Capital Metro)
Capital Metro opens downtown Austin station and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

Photo of a wall of "I voted" stickers
More than 30% of Travis County voters have cast their ballot in first week of early voting

Both in-person voting and by-mail voting in Travis County are up compared to the first week of early voting in 2016.

Photo of the downtown metro station
Expanded MetroRail station opens in Austin's downtown

Captial Metro hosted a grand opening for the new station Oct. 19.

Callie Speer opened Holly Roller at 590 Rio Grande St., Austin, in 2017. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Downtown brunch and biscuit joint Holy Roller closes its doors

Owner Callie Speer opened the popular restaurant in the West Sixth Street area in 2017.

Photo of a "for sale" sign in front of a house
Austin home sales are on the comeback after bottoming out in early spring

Low inventory and a delayed summer boom in home sales resulted in high sales for Austin in September.

The public-access lagoon will serve as the centerpiece for more than 1 million square feet of commercial development, including a full-service hotel and conference center planned for the property. (Rendering courtesy city of Leander)
'Game changer' development with lagoon coming to Leander and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular news from the Austin area from the past week.

Austin City Council unanimously supported aiming its local stimulus package toward the long-term viability of local at-risk businesses. (Courtesy ATXN)
Austin City Council wants limited local stimulus package to help small businesses outlast pandemic, not just pay rent

Austin's mayor said he wants businesses helped by the program to be better off than they were before the pandemic.

The public-access lagoon will serve as the centerpiece for more than 1 million square feet of commercial development, including a full-service hotel and conference center planned for the property. (Rendering courtesy city of Leander)
4-acre lagoon coming to Leander and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

With the coronavirus pandemic still active across the country, traditional fall activities could be seen as risky in 2020. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Planning to trick or treat this year? Local doctors weigh in on dangers, suggestions for fall activities

With the coronavirus pandemic still active across the country, traditional fall activities could be seen as risky in 2020.