A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled just before midnight Monday night that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) was within his rights to limit absentee ballot drop boxes to one per county, regardless of population. Civil rights and voting rights groups had argued that Abbott's Oct. 1 order suppressed the voting rights of people in large urban counties like Harris County (Houston), especially the elderly and disabled voters most likely to cast their ballots by mail during a deadly pandemic. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman agreed, issuing a stay on Abbott's order.
The three appellate judges, all appointed by President Trump, unanimously disagreed. "One strains to see how it burdens voting at all," Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote in his opinion, joined by Judges Don Willett and James Ho. Abbott's "proclamation was part of an expansion of absentee voting opportunities beyond what the Texas Election Code provided. The fact that this expansion is not as broad as plaintiffs would wish does not mean that it has illegally limited their voting rights."
Ho, in a concurring opinion, said Abbott's unilateral July 27 expansion of voting windows likely violated Texas and federal law, and he was sorry he couldn't strike the whole order down.
Texas, shaping up to be unexpectedly competitive this year, is one of just a handful of states that won't allow people to vote by mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Abbott did add six days to early in-person voting, however, and that begins Tuesday. The litigants could appeal the ruling, asking for a decision from the entire 5th circuit appellate court or the Supreme Court, but both courts are dominated by conservatives unlikely to overturn Duncan's decision, Politico reports.