The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to limit mail-in ballot drop box locations to one site per county, a decision that largely affects the Houston and Austin areas.
The court ruled that Abbott’s order “provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3 election than does the Election Code” and that it doesn’t “disenfranchise anyone.”
Opponents of Abbott’s order had argued it exceeded the governor’s authority and also created an unjust burden on voters in larger counties to travel far distances to drop off their ballots. Critics also argued it increased voters’ risk of contracting Covid-19.
The court did not agree with the plaintiffs’ argument that the governor’s order had exceeded his authority, nor that the order “severely” burdened voters and their right to vote.
“The plaintiffs complain that limiting early hand-deliveries of mail-in ballots to one office per county requires more travel time for some voters. But this ignores the other options for casting their ballots that these voters have,” the opinion read. It noted that voters can also vote in person for an expanded period of time than usual, drop off their mail-in ballot in a 45-day window before Election Day rather than on November 3 only, and also mail in their ballots.
The court also argued the risk of mailing the ballot is “small,” and “voters who are worried about it can mail their ballots in plenty of time before Election Day to eliminate the chance of untimely delivery.”
In a statement Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office cheered the ruling as having “correctly stopped the district court’s unlawful injunction and preserved election integrity.”
“The 2020 general election is already underway and the integrity of our election process must be protected and preserved,” the statement continued. “Governor Abbott’s order rightfully bolsters the security of dropped-off ballots.”
A federal appeals court also sided with Abbott’s order earlier this month. While the issue made its way through the courts, Harris County – which had reduced its 12 drop-off locations to one – and Travis County – which reduced its four drop-off locations to one – continued to operate with one site per county throughout the month.
Previously, a state judge wrote in a ruling that Abbott’s order “would likely needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to Covid-19 infections” and “substantially burden potential voters’ constitutionally protected rights to vote, as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things.” His ruling was upheld by a state court of appeals.
Tuesday’s ruling comes as Texas’ rapidly growing cities and inner suburbs – including the increasingly Democratic-leaning areas of Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth – have seen a massive surge of early voting.
Just alone in Harris County, which is centered on Houston, 1.15 million people had voted through Monday evening, compared with 1.3 million total in the 2016 election. The state’s other big cities and inner suburban counties are experiencing comparable increases.
Early voting began in Texas on October 13, 12 days after Abbott issued the order and with lines and hours-long wait times for thousands of voters at some locations.
This story has been updated with additional reaction and details.
CNN’s Ronald Brownstein, Devan Cole, Kay Jones and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.