Judge Blocks Texas Gov. Abbott's Mail-in Ballot Restrictions for Harming an 'Already Vulnerable Voting Population'

A federal judge has blocked an order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott that limited every county to a single mail ballot drop off location.

District Judge Robert Pitman ruled Friday Gov. Abbott's October 1 order, which reduced the number of locations where people could submit ballots during early voting, would leave vulnerable residents at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

Pitman granted a preliminary injunction against the governor's proclamation, stopping the restrictions from being enforced. The decision followed a Thursday hearing which came after rights groups and voters launched legal action against the order.

"By limiting ballot return centers to one per county, older and disabled voters living in Texas's largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted," Pitman concluded, according a filing obtained by the Austin American-Statesman.

"By forcing absentee voters to risk infection with a deadly disease to return their ballots in person or disenfranchisement if the [Postal Service] is unable to deliver their ballots in time, the October 1 Order imposes a burden on an already vulnerable voting population," he said.

The order was pitched by Abbott as a way to maintain the integrity of the U.S. election, saying it would ensure transparency and "help stop attempts at illegal voting."

Starting October 2, he said mail ballots would have to be delivered in-person to a single early clerk's office in every county, where they could be closely monitored.

On July 24, Abbott extended the early voting period for the November 3 election by a week, saying that it would continue until October 30. To obtain a mail-in ballot in Texas voters have to be aged 65 or over, disabled or out-of-country on election day.

Throughout his re-election campaign, President Donald Trump has repeatedly asserted without evidence that mail-in ballots are vulnerable to abuse or voting fraud.

The October 1 order by the Texas governor was instantly criticized by Democrats, who argued that it was an attempt to suppress state residents from casting their ballots. In Harris County, for example, locations dropped from almost a dozen to one.

"Harris County is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, and we're supposed to have 1 site? This isn't security, it's suppression. Mail ballot voters shouldn't have to drive 30 miles to drop off their ballot," Democratic Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted.

Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said after the Friday ruling that the injunction had "thwarted" Abbott's attempt at suppressing voters.

"Judge Pitman's common sense order followed well-established law and stopped the governor from making up election rules after the election started. Frankly, it ought to be a shock to all of us that such a ruling is even required," his statement read.

The decision was also welcomed by The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which was one of the organizations that filed a lawsuit in the courts.

"Voter suppression is evil and a blight on democracy," said Domingo Garcia, LULAC President."Governor Greg Abbott is trying to prey on the fear of the pandemic which will keep Hispanics from wanting to risk their lives by going to the polls in person.

"Legal voters prefer to safeguard their well-being by dropping their ballot at authorized locations near them and today's injunction guarantees they will be able to do so."

Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Texas Governor Greg Abbott announces the reopening of more Texas businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on May 18. A federal judge has blocked an order by Texas governor Greg Abbott that limited every county to a single mail ballot drop off location. Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty