Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is facing two separate federal lawsuits over his executive order that restricts ballot boxes to one per county in the sprawling state, a move opponents argue harms the nation’s most vulnerable voters during the coronavirus pandemic and suppresses the vote.
Ahead of the start of early voting in Texas on October 13, Abbott’s Thursday order requires large counties regardless of population and area to limit their number of drop-off locations for mail-in ballots to one. The challenges were filed in the Western District of Texas.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic and some voters’ concerns about voting in-person, requests for absentee and mail-in ballots have increased across the US. In Texas, state Republicans have successfully blocked Democrats’ attempts to expand mail-in voting, citing voter fraud. While rare instances of voter fraud from mail-in ballots do occur, it is nowhere near a widespread problem in the US election system.
In a complaint filed late Thursday against Abbott’s order, the Campaign Legal Center sued on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens, its Texas chapter, the League of Women Voters of Texas, and two individuals, alleging that the last-minute change will cause confusion for voters.
The complaint argues that the governor’s order forces Texas absentee voters – older voters, and voters with disabilities – to risk exposure to Covid-19, travel farther distances, and face longer waits.
Among the plaintiffs is an 82-year-old man from Cypress, Texas, whose nearest drop box in Harris County will now be 36 miles away, a nearly hour and a half round trip, the suit alleges.
“For Texas’ absentee voters—including those who had already requested or received their absentee ballot with the expectation that they would be able to use one of many drop-off locations offered by their county—the effect of the October 1 order is to unreasonably burden their ability to vote,” the suit states.
The lawsuit also says that the order disproportionately impacts minority communities.
In a statement Thursday, Abbott said his order was made to enhance ballot security and it “will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
The second suit, brought Friday by Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, a voter registration group Bigtent Creative, and a 65-year-old Dallas County voter, calls the governor’s changes “a ploy to suppress the vote” and argues that “neither Governor Abbott nor the Secretary have explained how the restriction enhances ballot security, and indeed the Restriction does not.”
Asked for a response Saturday to the lawsuits, Abbott’s office said in a statement provided to CNN, “The Governor has not limited voting—instead he has expanded access to voting.”
In July, Abbott expanded the amount of time for early voting in Texas by six days – which now begins on October 13 – and for hand-delivering mail-in ballots out of safety concerns due to the pandemic.
Abbott’s office said in its statement that the governor’s executive order on Thursday only applies to mail-in ballots.
His office added that the “additional time provided for those who want to submit their mail in ballot in person is sufficient to accommodate the limited number of people who have traditionally used that voting strategy.”
Other recent court rulings have limited no-excuse mail voting in Texas only to senior citizens and another blocked mail-in ballot applications from being automatically set to residents in Harris County.
Before Abbott’s order, several counties had already begun to roll out multiple absentee voting drop-off locations. Harris County, the state’s most populous county and a Democratic stronghold, had to reduce its 12 drop-off locations down to one on Friday. Over 40% of Harris County residents are Latino and nearly 20% are Black.
Abbott’s proclamation also allows poll watchers to observe the in-person delivery of mail-in ballots by voters.
The state’s Democratic Party chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, slammed the decision in a statement as a “blatant voter suppression tactic.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from the office of the Texas governor.
CNN’s Ashley Killough, Ed Lavandera and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.