In a last-minute move that voting rights groups and Democratic officials decried as a desperate and "blatant voter suppression tactic," the Republican governor of Texas on Thursday issued a proclamation ordering that absentee ballot drop-off locations be limited to one per county in the massive state.
Gov. Greg Abbott's order—which comes just a month before the November election and is likely to face a flood of legal challenges—would have the largest impact on Democratic counties that have established multiple drop-off sites in an effort to make voting as safe and convenient as possible. Recent polling shows President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are neck-and-neck in the state.
"Harris County, the state's most populous and a major Democratic stronghold, had designated a dozen locations where voters could deliver their own ballots—and already began collecting them this week," The Texas Tribune reported. "The locations are spread out across the county’s roughly 1,700 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island."
"Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans are scared. We are creating a movement that will beat them at the ballot box on November 3, and there's nothing these cheaters can do about it."
—Gilberto Hinojosa, Texas Democratic Party
Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement that Abbott is "trying to adjust the rules" to make voting more difficult because "Republicans are on the verge of losing" the state in November.
"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 Hinojosa. "Make no mistake, democracy itself is on the ballot. Every Texan must get out and vote these cowards out!"
"Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans are scared," Hinojosa continued. "We are creating a movement that will beat them at the ballot box on November 3, and there's nothing these cheaters can do about it."
While Abbott portrayed his unilateral move to shutter voting sites as an attempt to "maintain the integrity of our elections" and shield the process from virtually non-existent fraud, rights organizations said the proclamation is an obvious ploy to suppress turnout given the timing of the order and the disproportionate impact it could have on voters of color and people with disabilities.
"It raises a real concern that people are going to have just one more barrier to successfully submitting their ballot," Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement. "And it opens the door to voter intimidation."
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said late Thursday that "this has President Trump written all over it."
"With the governor changing the rules with 33 days until the most important election of our lifetime to make it harder to vote," Jenkins added, "Dallas County will do what we can to protect the right to vote as well as protect the voters and workers involved in that process."