Gov. Abbott’s closure of mail-in ballot drop-off sites will impact most diverse Texas cities

Illinois Capitol News

FILE – This May 26, 2020, file photo shows an Official Democratic General Primary mail-in ballot and secrecy envelope, for the Pennsylvania primary in Pittsburgh. Amid the global pandemic, more people than ever are expected to bypass their polling place and cast absentee ballots for the first time. Voters marking ballots from home could lead to an increase in the kinds of mistakes that typically would be caught by a scanner or election worker at the polls. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County and Harris County — and Texas’ two most diverse cities that are inside of them — are set to be the most impacted by the recent move by Gov. Greg Abbott to close mail-in ballot drop-off sites to one single site countywide.

In a proclamation on Thursday, Abbott ordered that mail-in ballots delivered in-person by eligible vote-by-mail voters must be dropped off to “a single early voting clerk’s office location as publicly designated by the county’s early voting clerk.”

What this means is that voters can only drop their ballots off at one location in the county they live in — all other sites will be closed.

In big counties like Travis and Harris, a lack of nearby drop-off sites could make it harder to cast a vote.

In Harris County, that means some voters may have to drive up to almost 50 miles in the 1,777-square-mile county to drop off their ballots, according to The Guardian. Harris County, with one site, is larger than the state of Rhode Island, says the Guardian, but Rhode Island has 39 drop-off sites.

Travis County, meanwhile, is 1,034-square-miles, according to Census.gov, and Austin — it’s biggest city — will have one single location at 5501 Airport Boulevard.

Travis and Harris, according to state data, are very diverse racially. According to Census, almost 9% of Travis County is Black and 33.6% are Hispanic or Latino.

Harris County, meanwhile, is 20% Black and 43.7% Hispanic or Latino, according to Census.

Some say that making it harder for these communities to vote is intentional voter suppression.

Military veteran and political strategist Pam Campos-Palma says the already difficult process for certain marginalized communities to vote is even more complicated under Abbott’s proclamation.

“In a year that is already filled with so much crisis and uncertainty it is active voter suppression,” said Campos-Palma.

Historically, voter suppression impacts Black, Latino and other communities of color.

According to a 2018 academic poll from the Public Religion Research Institution and The Atlantic, of those polled, about 1 in 10 non-white residents of Illinois and Michigan reported they or someone in their household were told their names were not on the voter registration list — even though they believed they were registered to vote.

Only about 10 in 20 white voters from the same states reported similar experiences.

About the same amounts (9%) of non-white voters say they were harassed or bothered the last time they or a member of their household tried to vote. Only about (4%) of white voters say they’ve experienced the same thing.

Abbott’s office responded to criticism that he’s purposely trying to limit voting, saying:

The Governor has not limited voting—instead he has expanded access to voting. Before the Governor’s executive order, Texans who wanted to vote by mail could either mail their ballot or submit it in person on Election Day only. Because of COVID-19, the governor’s executive order increased the time period during which voters can submit their mail in ballot in person to include anytime leading up to Election Day. That time period did not exist under current law. Moreover, the only ballots subject to this order are mail in ballots. Most of those ballots are in fact submitted by mail. The additional time provided for those who want to submit their mail in ballot in person is sufficient to accommodate the limited number of people who have traditionally used that voting strategy.”

Abbott’s decision was followed by a lawsuit this week, when several groups representing marginalized communities filed against the Governor and county election officials.

The lawsuit was filed by the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens, National League of United Latin American Citizens, League of Women Voters of Texas, and two individuals.

“For Texas’ absentee voters—including those who had already requested or received their absentee ballot with the expectation that they would be able to use one of many drop-off locations offered by their county—the effect of the October 1 order is to unreasonably burden their ability to vote,” the lawsuit reads. “They will have to travel further distances, face longer waits, and risk exposure to COVID-19, in order to use the single ballot return location in their county.”

Mail-in ballots must be requested by Oct. 23 and must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by 5 p.m. Nov. 4.

Voting registration in Texas closes on Monday, Oct. 5 and early voting starts Oct. 13.

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