An ongoing battle in Texas over voters' access to absentee ballot drop-off locations illustrates the consequences of President Donald Trump's relentless focus on stacking the judicial branch with conservative appointees, as a federal appeals court late Monday night upheld Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's limit on voting locations across the state.
A panel of three Trump appointees on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a temporary stay on a District Court's earlier ruling, in which Judge Robert Pitman had said Abbott was unfairly cutting off access to voting for people across the state by limiting ballot drop-off locations to one per county.
Following Monday night's ruling, Texas voters are likely to face hours-long lines to drop off their absentee ballots, like those that reporters have recorded in Harris County in recent days.
Just met a woman coming out of poll here. Waited in line since just before poll opened at 7 am and she is just now leaving. Basically hour and 45 minutes to vote here in Houston. The line is still wrapped around the building. pic.twitter.com/BTGAw0upOY
— Jeremy Wallace (@JeremySWallace) October 13, 2020
We’re seeing some wraparound action, but overall the line to drop of absentee ballots in Harris County is moving quickly. Thanks to Gov. Abbott’s proclamation this is now the only drop-off site in the county of more than 4.7 million.I’m live on @MSNBC w/ the latest all day. pic.twitter.com/n2mauqq20A
— Priscilla Thompson (@PriscillaWT) October 6, 2020
Trump named his 200th judicial appointee to the federal court system in June, and is working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to push through the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court after appointing Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh earlier in his term.
On Monday, Democratic strategist Emmy Bengston tweeted, three of Trump's chosen judges upheld "voter suppression."
Three Trump appointees upholding voter suppression.
Only one party is packing the courts and legislating from the bench, and it aint Democrats. https://t.co/a1ylX9zPy4
— Emmy Bengtson (@EmmyA2) October 13, 2020
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Abbott and other Republicans claim allowing more than one drop-off location per county would invite so-called "voter fraud"—which multiple studies have found to be extremely rare whether a voter casts a ballot in person, by mail, or by dropping it off.
A record number of Americans have requested absentee ballots this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Abbott's attempt to make voting more difficult for people who aim to avoid spreading Covid-19 caught international attention this month, with Spanish politician Alfons López Tena denouncing the move as a "travesty" intended to disenfranchise voters of color in Texas.
Texas governor Abbott stands out amid GOP voter suppression, restricting the number of drop boxes for completed ballots to 1 per county. For the 4.7m residents of Harris County, 70% of whom are non-white and liable to vote Democratic, that is a travestyhttps://t.co/rmKdKqCQtB
— Alfons López Tena (@alfonslopeztena) October 9, 2020
In his ruling last week, Pitman sided with a coalition of civil rights groups, including the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens, who filed suit against the state arguing that voters particularly vulnerable to severe cases of Covid-19 would be disenfranchised by Abbott's restrictions.
"Older and disabled voters living in Texas' largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted," Pitman wrote in his ruling.
The ruling on Monday, journalist Adam Serwer sarcastically tweeted, illustrates the Republican Party's view that "the constitution very clearly says 'Republicans win every time, especially when disenfranchising millions of voters they think won't support them.'"
Conservative judges interpret the law and the constitution apolitically, and it just so happens that the constitution very clearly says “Republicans win every time, especially when disenfranchising millions of voters they think won’t support them.” https://t.co/grbkFNY03M
— Endless Zoom Meeting (@AdamSerwer) October 13, 2020
"Democracy is ok as long as you vote Republican. If you don't, well, that freedom can be taken away from you because it's not as important as 'liberty,'" wrote Serwer. "What's liberty? It's when one party runs things because it successfully disenfranchises the other party's voters. Any questions?"