Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a proclamation in July expanding the options for Texans to safely vote prior to Election Day in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In October, he issued another proclamation that clarified and in some cases limited the earlier expansion, such as allowing only one drop-off site per county for voters to hand-deliver an absentee prior to Election Day.
That limitation was challenged and both a state district court and appeals court sided with the plaintiffs, but the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned those lower court rulings and backed the governor’s October limitation of drop-boxes per county, The Hill reported.
Ease of voting expanded
According to reports, the plaintiffs in the case argued that Abbott exceeded his executive authority in limiting each county in the state to only one drop-box for the early delivery of absentee ballots, that his order infringed upon the people’s right to vote, and that it placed an extraordinary and undue burden on voters who lived in large and heavily-populated counties.
The justices on the Texas Supreme Court disagreed with each of those arguments and knocked them down one by one, while also chiding the lower courts in a 17-page opinion.
The first point made by the justices was that Abbott’s October proclamation couldn’t be viewed as an infringement or limitation on the voting rights of any Texan, as the order merely made modifications to the earlier July proclamation that had expanded early access for voters far beyond what was permitted by ordinary statute.
As the court explained, per the Texas statute that ordinarily would rule if not for the emergency caused by the pandemic, voters could only hand-deliver an absentee ballot on Election Day. Abbott’s July order had, in addition to granting an extra week for the early in-person voting period, also granted an extended amount of time prior to the election for absentee ballots to be dropped off.
It was only in the October proclamation — after several large counties had sought to establish multiple drop-boxes in addition to the county clerk’s office, according to The Hill — that Abbott, citing concerns about election integrity and the potential for ballot fraud, limited each county to just one drop-box.
Arguments countered in turn
As for the argument that Abbott had exceeded his authority with the October limitation, the high court pointed out that the same argument, if accepted, would undermine the plaintiffs own case and render the July proclamation unconstitutional, which in essence would do away with all of the expansions for voting access that Abbott had granted.
With respect to the argument that the October order infringed upon voting rights, the justices wrote, “The plaintiffs complain that limiting early hand-deliveries of mail-in ballots to one office per county requires more travel time for some voters. But this ignores the other options for casting their ballots that these voters have.”
Citing a ruling from the Fifth Circuit, it was noted that Texas voters had three clear options available: voting in-person during the expanded early voting period, hand-delivering a ballot during the expanded period to do so, or utilizing the mail service to deliver their ballot, all of which was in addition to simply voting as usual on Election Day.
As to the claim that the October order resulted in a disparate impact on voters in large and populous counties, the court noted that even in normal times, each county was different and voters in different counties routinely faced unique challenges, none of which was substantially changed by the governor’s actions.
In the end, the justices ruled that Abbott had actually provided voters with more options to vote than usual, that no one had been “disenfranchised,” that the plaintiffs did not have a right to an injunction blocking Abbott’s order, and that the lower court had “erred” in granting one — and the lower courts’ rulings had thus been overturned and dissolved. It looks like the GOP can count this one as a win.