Texas: “US judge blocks Abbott order limiting ballot drop-off locations” (link to opinion)


A federal judge issued an order Friday night barring enforcement of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Oct. 1 proclamation that limited counties to one mail-in ballot drop-off location.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman said Abbott’s order placed an unacceptable burden on the voting rights of elderly and disabled Texans, who are most likely to request a mail-in ballot and to hand deliver those ballots early to ensure that they are counted.

These voters are also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the judge said.

“By limiting ballot return centers to one per county, older and disabled voters living in Texas’s 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.

From the court’s order on the Purcell timing issue:

Here, the Court has been asked, by Plaintiffs and Defendant County Clerks, to reduce or eliminate what would amount to executive-caused voter confusion on the eve of an election. Governor Abbott’s unilateral decision to reverse his July 27 Order after officials already began sending out absentee ballots and just days before the start of early voting in Texas has caused voter confusion. (See e.g. Hollins Decl., Dkt. 8-1, at 7). Even without declaratory evidence, it is apparent that closing ballot return centers at the last minute would cause confusion, especially when those centers were deemed safe, authorized, and, in fact, advertised as a convenient option just months ago. As such, the Court’s injunction supports the Purcell principle that courts should avoid issuing orders that cause voters to become confused and stay away from the polls. 549 U.S. 1, 4–5.

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. Since Governor Abbott closed previously-sanctioned centers, there is confusion: (1) confusion resulting from a voter trying to cast a ballot at a center she thought was open—because it used to be—but which is now closed or (2) confusion resulting from a voter trying to cast a ballot at a center that she thought was recently closed but is now open again.11 Between these two choices, the Court is of the opinion that the second scenario is the more favorable and just choice: it is the only choice that restores the status quo and likely reduces confusion on the eve of an election, and it results in a greater chance that a ballot can be cast at a ballot return center that was previously available to voters—after being vetted as safe and secure and publicly touted as a viable option to exercise voting rights. See Ely v. Klahr, 403 U.S. 108, 113 (1971) (affirming district court decision where “the court chose what it considered the lesser of two evils”).

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