In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many Democrat-run jurisdictions have relaxed election laws in an attempt to encourage voters to cast their ballots by mail or absentee. Meanwhile, many Republican-run jurisdictions, including the state of Texas, seemed to have done the opposite, often out of concern over potential election fraud.
In that vein, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued an order earlier this month limiting each county in the Lone Star state to only one drop-off box for absentee ballots. But according to CBS News, an Obama-appointed federal judge just said no to the GOP governor’s order, ruling that election officials aren’t bound by it and can establish as many drop-off boxes for ballots as they deem necessary.
At issue was a lawsuit from groups including the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens and the League of Women Voters of Texas, who claimed the governor’s order would cause confusion and place an undue burden on Texas voters, particularly those who live in large and heavily populated counties, as The Hill reported.
Gov. Abbott and the state, on the other hand, had argued that the move would actually “limit voter confusion and prevent fraud,” The Hill noted. But U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman, appointed by then-President Barack Obama in 2014, disagreed.
In his ruling, Pitman agreed with the plaintiffs that the order ended up causing more confusion and did little to guard against potential fraud, noting that multiple ballot drop-off sites have been available in Texas counties in previous elections.
“The State’s own approval of counties using satellite ballot return centers on Election Day belies their assertion that those same ballot return centers present ballot security concerns,” Pitman wrote, according to The Hill.
He also rejected arguments from Abbott’s administration that reversing the rule would cause further confusion among voters.
“To the extent that this Court’s injunction to reinstate the ballot return centers does potentially cause confusion, the Court is satisfied that it would be minimal and outweighed by the increase in voting access,” the judge wrote, noting that the burden of reduced access falls “disproportionately on voters who are elderly, disabled, or live in larger counties.”
Unsurprisingly, Texas Democrats, including the state Democratic Party’s chair, Gilberto Hinojosa, touted the judge’s ruling as a “common sense order.”
“Governor Abbott’s attempt to suppress Texas voters has been thwarted. Judge Pitman’s common sense order followed well-established law and stopped the governor from making up election rules after the election started,” Hinojosa said, according to The Hill. “Frankly, it ought to be a shock to all of us that such a ruling is even required.”
But it wasn’t entirely a win for those on the left: the judge also granted a partial victory to the governor, opting not to rule on a part of Abbott’s order that “allowed poll watchers to observe drop off sites,” meaning it will stand, as CBS News reported.
“These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting,” Abbott said when announcing the order. It’s truly a shame that such an effort by the governor would be controversial at all.