Texas Gov. Abbott rolls back voter access in Harris County

Gov. Greg Abbott threw the weight of his office Thursday behind Republican efforts to limit options for Texas voters who want to hand-deliver their completed absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation enhancing ballot security protocols for the in-person delivery of marked mail ballots.

Under the proclamation, which begins on Oct. 2, mail ballots that are delivered in person by voters who are eligible to vote by mail must be delivered to a single early voting clerk’s office location as publicly designated by a county’s early voting clerk.

The ballot will have to be delivered to the early voting clerk’s office location, which will be publicly designated by a county’s early voting clerk.

That location in Harris County will be at the NRG arena starting Friday. Ballots will be accepted in person through Gate 8 from 8 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. Voters must present ID and signature.

Texas Democrats were quick to lash out at the move, calling it a “blatant voter suppression tactic.”

The following statement can be attributed to Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins:

 

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins

“The Governor’s previous proclamation gave voters more options to vote safely during the global pandemic and alleviated concerns over mail delivery to ensure that every vote is counted. I applauded that proclamation.

Going back on his word at this point harms voters and will result in widespread confusion and voter suppression.” – Chris Hollins

Many mail ballots have already been dropped off by voters across Harris County, and multiple drop-off locations have been advertised for weeks.

Our office is more than willing to accommodate poll watchers at mail ballot drop-off locations. But to force hundreds of thousands of seniors and voters with disabilities to use a single drop-off location in a county that stretches over nearly 2,000 square miles is prejudicial and dangerous.”

“Courts all over the country, including the Fifth Circuit yesterday, have held that it is too late to change election rules, but our failed Republican leadership will try anyway,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa in a statement.

The proclamation also requires early voting clerks to allow poll watchers to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.

This proclamation amends a July 27 proclamation that extended the period in which marked mail-in ballots could be delivered in person.

“The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” said Abbott. “As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”

Abbott’s order will have a significant effect on Texas’ most populous county – Harris County, which had set up 12 such offices around its more than 1700 square miles in order to make it more convenient for voters to return their mail-in ballots early and prevent overcrowding at locations.

Now, 11 of those offices will be forced to close effective tomorrow.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued the following statement in response to Governor Abbott’s executive order closing down 11 mail-in ballot drop-off locations in Harris County 33 days before the general election.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

“Governor Abbott’s proclamation reverses previous state guidance allowing counties to provide voters with multiple official ballot drop off locations and leaves Harris County with only one ballot drop-off site.

“The strength of our democracy and our county is only as strong as our ability to support free, fair, and open elections. Geographically, Harris County is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. Our population rivals that of the entire state of Colorado.

“To propose only a single, secure drop-off location for a county of our size during a pandemic is ludicrous.” 

Simply put, mail ballot voters should not be forced to drive 30 miles to drop off their ballot, or be limited to relying primarily on a mail system that’s facing cutbacks. Governor Abbott’s move is transparently about suppression, not security. It is also part of a broader effort by the Trump Administration to confuse voters, discourage voter participation and degrade public confidence in our elections.

“We are working with our attorneys to assess any legal options we have, but in the meantime we want to be very clear: Regardless of who you want to vote for, your vote matters. Do not let the forces of voter intimidation prevent or discourage you from making your voice heard. Voters in Harris County who have already taken advantage of drop off locations in our County to date should know that their ballots will still be counted. Drop-off locations for example, require voters to show ID when dropping off their votes.”

“Over the past year and a half, Harris County has undertaken a series of improvements designed to make voting easier, safer, accessible, and secure. The county has tripled the number of early voting locations, extended voting hours, implemented county-wide voting centers, and undertaken elections security audits. To provide enhanced safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the county is taking additional precautions, like providing voters with PPE and standing up drive-thru voting options. This week, the county also launched a ballot tracking system to provide mail-in ballot voters with updates on the status of their ballot.

“Eligible voters are strongly encouraged to register to vote if they have not already done so as the October 5th registration deadline is quickly approaching. To register, visit Register2Vote.org. For additional information about this year’s election and voting options visit HarrisVotes.org.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner released the following statement after Gov. Abbott forced Harris County to close 11 mail ballot drop-off sites.

 

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

“Growing up, I was bused over 20 miles as a student in the first integrated class at Klein High School. Because of the Governor’s decision today, I would now have to go even farther to drop off an absentee ballot and make sure my vote is counted.

“Harris County is the 3rd largest county in the United States, and Houston is the 4th largest city in the country. Reducing the number of mail-in ballot drop-off sites from 11 to one is a direct attempt at voter suppression.

“We should be focused on making voting more accessible and stop trying to create obstacles and distractions with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.”