Texas Gov Greg Abbott Shuts Down County Ballot Drop-Off Sites, Because F*ck It, He Can
In an astonishing display of naked assholery (like even worse than the yodeling vegan baby kind), Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered yesterday that each county in the state can have only one drop-off point for absentee ballots, effective today. Several large (and surprise! heavily Democratic) counties had already set up multiple ballot collection locations, to make voting easier during the pandemic. Those sites will be shuttered today, even though the counties have already begun collecting ballots, and had announced the locations to voters, so that's going to lead to all sorts of confusion. As intended.
Abbott's order will be especially tough on Harris County, Texas's most populous with 4.7 million people, and home to Houston, which had opened 11 absentee ballot collection offices. We're not talking drop-off boxes like many states have; these are staffed locations where people must show photo ID to drop off a ballot. And Travis County (Austin) has four sites, too. Despite that, Abbot's office claimed the restrictions were absolutely necessary to ensure "ballot security," even though voting fraud is extremely rare for both in-person and absentee voting.
And this is fun! In addition to limiting the number of ballot collection points, Abbott ordered that county clerks "allow poll watchers to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk's office location," including observing voters showing their ID to the poll workers. At this time, people dropping off their ballots will not yet be required to take a DNA test to prove they are who they claim to be.
Democratic groups may file a lawsuit as early as today to get the sites opened again.
Texas's Republicans from Abbott on down have doggedly opposed most measures other states have taken to make voting easier, refusing to relax the state's already strict requirements for absentee voting. Abbott did allow a couple of small concessions to reduce crowding at the polls on Election Day: He added six days to the early-voting period, and he allowed early drop-off for absentee ballots, which normally can only be dropped off on Election Day. (And wouldn't you know it, a group of Houston wingnuts have sued to overturn even those accommodations, claiming that Abbott had exceeded his authority.)
Otherwise, as the Texas Tribune explains, the state's absentee voting remains as it had been, one of the strictest in the nation:
Voters qualify only if they are 65 or older, are confined in jail but otherwise eligible, are outside of their county through the election period, or cite a disability or illness. The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that lack of immunity to the coronavirus does not itself constitute disability, but that voters must consider that alongside their own personal medical history to decide whether they are eligible. Election administrators do not have the power to vet a voter's disability claims or demand documentation, but providing false information is a crime.
In his press release, Abbott claimed this was all for voters' own good, because the state "has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections," and that the restrictions "will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting."
The Texas Tribune notes, with a perfectly straight face, that a spokesperson for Abbott "did not respond to questions about how allowing multiple drop-off locations might lead to fraud." It just would, duh. It only makes sense to have all the absentee voters in the Houston area (Harris County is roughly the size of Rhode Island) cram into a single location to drop off ballots.
Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins condemned the move, accusing Abbott of "going back on his word" by adding restrictions to the small accommodation he'd made on early return of absentee ballots.
Tuesday's proclamation "will result in widespread confusion and voter suppression," Hollis said, while noting that for weeks his county has advertised the multiple locations.
"Our office is more than willing to accommodate poll watchers at mail ballot drop-off locations," Hollins said. "But to force hundreds of thousands of seniors and voters with disabilities to use a single drop-off location in a county that stretches over nearly 2,000 square miles is prejudicial and dangerous."
And then there's the potential for increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, since more voters will now have to use just one drop-off point per county. And whee, now they'll be watched over by partisan poll watchers, who are, like voters, exempt from having to wear masks. We bet the volunteers manning the polls on Election Day, and the county workers at the ballot drop-off sites, will be really psyched about that. At least Texas law requires poll watchers not to speak to voters or follow them into voting booths, so the army of GOP poll watchers won't be allowed to literally breathe down voters' necks.
Good luck, Texas! Here's hoping this last minute attempt at voter suppression pisses off enough people to drive Democratic turnout way up.
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