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Travis County officials plan to fight governor’s order limiting drop-off sites for mail-in ballots

Thursday, October 1, 2020 by Ashley Lopez, KUT

Travis County officials say they plan to fight Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting the number of locations where voters may hand-deliver their mail-in ballots.

Abbott announced the order Thursday, the same day local election officials opened the four drop-off sites.

“Under this proclamation, beginning on October 2, 2020, mail ballots that are delivered in person by voters who are eligible to vote by mail must be delivered to a single early voting clerk’s office location as publicly designated by a county’s early voting clerk,” Abbott said in a statement.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the county had set up four sites for voters to hand-deliver their ballots. She called the order “most unfortunate” and said she plans to “challenge the governor” and his effort to close three of those sites.

“I don’t know what is going to happen to the governor’s order until we get to the point that I can talk about it in court,” she said. “In the meantime, I am still going to listen to what the county attorney tells me is the appropriate thing for the county clerk to do. And that is what we will follow.”

A few other urban counties, including Harris County, are opening a number of drop-off sites for voters amidst concerns about the United States Postal Service’s ability to handle the volume of ballots being mailed.

An unprecedented number of Texans are expected to vote by mail this year, particularly those who are disabled, over 65 or in one of the other limited categories the state allows.

In past presidential elections, DeBeauvoir said, her office received an average of 27,000 applications for mail-in ballots. So far this year, it has received 71,000 applications, she said.

Concerns over potential USPS issues handling the increase in mail-in ballots forced local election officials in populous counties to come up with more options for registered voters planning to vote by mail in the upcoming general election.

These hand-delivery sites, or in-person drop-off sites, were among the solutions.

DeBeauvoir said Abbott’s sudden disapproval of these sites is “targeted” at urban counties, which tend to be heavily Democratic.

“This is a deliberate attempt to manipulate the election,” she said. “If the governor was truly worried about this, he could have stopped this program more than a month ago or contacted the urban counties that are all doing the same thing Travis County is doing.”

In response to the governor’s order, Texas Democrats called Republicans “cheaters.”

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

Austin’s lone Democratic congressman, Lloyd Doggett, called Abbott’s order an “outrageous act of voter suppression” aimed at affecting the election. “This sabotage is not about election security,” he said in a statement, “it is about Republican political insecurity. With over a month to return your ballot, voting by mail remains the safest way to participate.”

“The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” Abbott said. “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.”

In his statement, Abbott said the order was an effort to enhance “ballot security protocols” for mail-in ballots, though he offered no evidence that having multiple sites would affect the security of the ballots.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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