Texas governor to close mail-in ballot drop-off boxes, limiting one per county

Voting rights advocates warn proclamation could suppress thousands of votes in massive counties

Related video: Trump claims Democrats will corruptly use mail-in votes to steal 2020 election from him during RNC speech
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Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered the removal of mail-in ballot drop-off locations across the state, limiting to just one drop-off point per county.

The order, effective on 2 October, also requires that voting clerks allow poll watchers to observe ballot delivery.

Governor Abbott, a Republican, said election security and Covid-19 concerns prompted the order, though Texas Democrats argued that it’s a last-minute attempt to suppress votes despite court rulings that have determined it’s too late to change election rules, as millions of Americans have already cast ballots during early voting across the US just weeks before Election Day.

State election officials expanded vote-by-mail efforts in the state, bracing for a greater demand for absentee ballots during the pandemic to prevent crowding in-person polling locations on Election Day.

In Travis County, which holds the state’s capital of Austin, officials had opened four satellite locations for voters to hand-deliver their mail-in ballots. The county of 1.2 million people includes more than 800,000 registered voters, all within a county that’s more than 1,000 square miles.

Harris County, one of the largest counties in the US, has 12 satellite offices, covering the greater Houston area.

The county covers more than 1,700 square miles, with more than 2.4 million registered voters.

Mail-in ballots can be dropped off at designated offices in each county, with proof of ID and signature.

Voting rights advocates have warned that forcing Texans, some travelling hours, to just one designated office per county could suppress thousands of votes, as Democrats urge voters to make a plan to vote early in person.

Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said state Republicans “are on the verge of losing, so Governor Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute.”

“Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans are scared," he said in a statement following the governor’s order. "We are creating a movement that will beat them at the ballot box on 3 November, and there’s nothing these cheaters can do about it.”

The governor said that the state “has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections" as he invoked unfounded allegations of “illegal voting” that Donald Trump and his allies have claimed pose a threat to November elections, despite his own campaign and administration officials and the FBI finding no such evidence.

“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,” the governor said in a statement. "These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting."

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