Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott ignited outrage on Thursday after issuing a proclamation that would make absentee voting much more difficult within the state.
The controversial order limits the number of mail-in ballot drop-off sites to just one per county, and will effectively close all drop-off satellite locations beginning Friday. Abbott claims the move was intended to improve ballot security measures ahead of the November general election. In July, he issued an order that extended early voting by six days, citing concerns over the global pandemic and potential crowding at drop-off locations.
The order also permits poll watchers "to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk's office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot."
"The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections," Abbott said in a statement regarding the proclamation. "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. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting."
Many have pointed out that the order will likely hurt voter turnout in Texas' largest counties, most of which have traditionally voted blue. Harris County has a population of 4.7 million people and now has a dozen drop-off sites. Travis County, which has a population of 1.2 million people, has four sites.
Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, criticized the move as a "blantant voter suppression tactic."
"Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Governor Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute," Hinojosa said in a statement. "Courts all over the country, including the Fifth Circuit yesterday, have held that it is too late to change election rules, but our failed Republican leadership will try anyway. Make no mistake, Democracy itself is on the ballot. Every Texan must get out and vote these cowards out! Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans are scared. We are creating a movement that will beat them at the ballot box on November 3, and there’s nothing these cheaters can do about it."