(Austin, Texas)- Governor Greg Abbott’s order to restrict each county in Texas to one secure ballot drop box is unconstitutional and a direct act of voter suppression, a lawsuit filed today against Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs argues. The lawsuit challenges the Oct. 1 order to permit only one secure ballot drop box in each county, and claims it places an excessive burden on the fundamental right to vote for all Texans.
“Now is not the time for Texas officials to roll back the common-sense steps necessary to protect the fundamental right to vote,” said John Powers, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Shuttering secure ballot drop-off locations that were already open and operating is a direct act of voter suppression. Governor Abbott is trying to silence the voices of Texans wishing to cast their vote on the eve of a major election.”
The litigation, Texas State Conference of the NAACP v. Abbott, was filed in United States District Court for the Western District of Texas Austin Division. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm Ropes & Gray is representing the Texas NAACP. The lawsuit seeks a court order that will permit county election administrators to establish more than one location for ballot drop-boxes in each county, and prohibit Abbott or any other election official in Texas from taking actions that will prevent this.
The lawsuit points out that Harris and Travis Counties were already operating secure absentee ballot drop-off locations that had already accepted absentee ballots and had to be closed as a result of Governor Abbott’s order. The complaint alleges that long lines have already formed at Harris County’s sole drop-off location, NRG Stadium, and that additional demand for ballot drop boxes is justified given the mounting delays and ongoing problems with the United States Postal Service. In addition, Abbott himself noted how the COVID-19 pandemic would cause changes to our election administration, and issued a proclamation extend early voting and other vote-by-mail options in July.
“We are deeply saddened by the necessity of filing this lawsuit. Our organization looks with astonishment at this egregious action that will suppress the vote while at the same time cause the public to have greater exposure to a dangerous virus that has already overwhelmed our State,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP. “We would have hoped that the clear danger to the public inherent in this change would have dissuaded state officials from doing this.”
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission currently recommends on ballot drop-box location for every 20,000 registered voters. Abbott’s order will disproportionately impact the state’s Black and Latino community, due to their concentration in the state’s most populous areas.
“Free and fair elections are critical to our democracy; the Governor’s order impinges on that privilege by changing the rules of the process at the eleventh hour,” said John Montgomery, an attorney with Ropes & Gray.
Read the full lawsuit here.