AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) — With the 2020 election a little more than two weeks away, the legal back-and-forth over the number of drop-off locations for hand delivered absentee ballots in Texas continues.
On Thursday, a judge struck down Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting ballot drop boxes to one per county, injecting more uncertainty into the battle over mail-in voting.
State Judge Tim Sulak said Abbott’s order “would likely needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections” and “substantially burden potential voters’ constitutionally protected rights to vote, as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things.” The state lawsuit was brought by liberal-leaning groups in Texas.
The impact of the ruling is unclear. Earlier this week, a federal appeals court upheld Abbott’s order. The state court ruling on Thursday is a separate case focused on state law.
The governor’s move has significantly affected the Democratic stronghold of Harris County. The county, which is roughly the size of Delaware, is the state’s largest by population and one of the most populous in the country. Home to Houston, it covers a massive area that previously had 12 drop-off locations. Travis County, which includes the reliably Democratic city of Austin, must limit its four drop-off locations to one.
Elizabeth Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Clerk’s Office, said that because of the ongoing legal wrangling, the county is not currently planning to reopen the 11 drop box locations it closed after Abbott’s one-box-per-county order went into effect earlier this month. The office will continue to focus on the sole location at NRG Stadium in Houston, Lewis said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, on behalf of Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs, quickly filed an appeal that paused Sulak’s decision until the state’s 3rd Court of Appeals reviews it. . Abbott and Paxton, both Republicans, have defended Texas’ mail-in voting laws, which are among the most restrictive in the country.
The issue has bounced between opposing courts for several weeks. The appeals court victory for the governor came after Paxton filed an emergency motion for a stay pending appeal to a district court order that would have allowed county officials to accept hand delivery of mail-in ballots at any county annex or satellite office.
Early voting began in Texas on Tuesday with lines and hours-long wait times for thousands of voters at some locations.
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