Governor Greg Abbott of Texas issued an order Thursday that will require multiple ballot drop-off sites to close, limiting counties — including heavily populated ones that skew Democratic — to a single location where voters can deliver marked mail-in ballots. The proclamation, set to go into effect on Friday, also says early-voting clerks must allow poll watchers, who are chosen by political parties and candidates, “to observe any activity conducted at the early-voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.” The governor cast his order as a blow for “greater transparency” that would “stop attempts at illegal voting,” a risible justification considering how infrequently such attempts are made. Top Texas Democrats immediately blasted the order as naked voter suppression on the eve of what looks to be the most competitive presidential race in the state in decades, with some predicting the move would backfire. “Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Gov. Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute,” said Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa on Twitter, noting that, just this week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that it was too late for Texas to make changes to election rules.
Anticipating a surge in mail-in voting due to the pandemic as well as concerns about the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle the influx, some counties have opened several locations where voters can deliver completed ballots in person. Three of the four locations in Travis County, which includes liberal Austin, first opened on Thursday; Harris County, which includes Houston and has a population of 4.7 million people (and is larger in area than Rhode Island), has opened 12 such sites. Areas with populations big enough to require so many locations tend to vote more Democratic than the rest of the state, and include significant minority populations though voters in sparsely populated yet enormous conservative-leaning counties will likely also be put at a disadvantage). It’s unclear how many people have used the drop-off sites, but requests for mail-in ballots have surged in Texas amid the pandemic, as they have across most of the country — though the state is more restrictive about who can partake in the process than many other places.
Abbott’s proclamation is an amendment to his July 27 order, which, in light of the pandemic, provided extra time for early voting and waived a state law that limits ballot delivery to Election Day by permitting early mail-in-ballot delivery. It seems that with the polls not looking good for President Trump and with other state Republicans in danger, the governor has had a change of heart about allowing voters too many rights.