Appeals Court Panel Upholds Texas Order Limiting Drop-Box Locations For Mail-In Ballots

( Texas can limit drop-off locations for mail-in ballot boxes to one per county, according to a federal appeals court ruling.

On Monday, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld an executive order issued by Texas Governor Greg Abbott that places the limit on drop-off locations.

Voting and civil rights groups argued the order suppressed voting rights, as it made it harder to cast a mail-in ballot. They specifically referred to the challenges it poses for disabled voters and the elderly, who the groups say would be the most likely to use the mail-in drop-off locations.

The judges, however, ruled that Abbott’s order actually expands voting options, instead of suppressing them. That’s because state law only allowed for mail-in ballots to be delivered in person on Election Day. When Abbott issued his order on October 1, he was merely revising law to close multiple drop-off locations in each county.

Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote:

“That effectively gives voters 40 extra days to hand-deliver a marked mail-in ballot to an early voting clerk. And the voter still has the traditional option she has always had for casting a mail-in ballot: mailing it.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued an injunction last Friday against Abbott’s order, claiming it placed an unacceptable burden on people who are most likely to be vulnerable to the coronavirus. Monday’s appeals court ruling blocked that injunction.

In his ruling, Pitman wrote:

“Older and disabled voters living in Texas’ largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted.”

That ruling was quickly appealed by Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general.

The three-judge panel issued what’s known as a “stay pending appeal,” meaning Pitman’s ruling would be placed on hold until the appeal was able to be completed. In doing so, the panel criticized Pitman’s decision for “vastly overstating” the magnitude of the burden it caused.

Duncan wrote:

“How this expansion of voting opportunities burdens anyone’s right to vote is a mystery. Indeed, one strains to see how it burdens voting at all.”

There are still “numerous ways” in which Texas voters can participate in advance of the November 3 election. This includes voting as early as Tuesday of this week since the governor extended the early voting period by six days because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state also provides voters with the opportunity to drop off mail-in ballots at drop-box locations in each county before Election Day. They can also still drop them off in-person on Election Day, or put them in the mail to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

On Tuesday, Abbott wrote on Twitter that he was thankful for the court’s ruling. He wrote:

“Critics were clearly clueless about the legality of my action & simply voiced prejudicial political opinions.”