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Texas Governor Plans To Limit Number Of Ballot Drop Boxes To 1 Per County

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Many voters plan to mail in their ballots this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas is one of a handful of states that have resisted expanding voting by mail. Now, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has made it even more difficult for those voters. And as Houston Public Media's Andrew Schneider reports, that decision has already led to a federal lawsuit.

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: Most Texans can't vote by mail. You have to be over age 65 or have a medical condition, be in jail but eligible to vote or physically away from your home to do so. Despite those rules, Texas counties are reporting a record number of absentee ballot requests. But with fears about the post office's reliability, many counties were offering drop boxes for those ballots. Governor Abbott's order on Thursday limits each county to a single drop-off location. He said it was necessary for ballot security.

But it comes as Democrats are surging across Texas, making it competitive at the national level for the first time in decades. Democrat Chris Hollins is the top election official in Harris County.

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CHRIS HOLLINS: This haphazard decision by Gov. Abbott to change the rules of the game at the last moment is confusing to voters and will serve to suppress Texas votes.

SCHNEIDER: Harris County is home to Houston and one of the state's Democratic strongholds. It had originally planned a dozen such drop-off sites over the county's 1,700 square miles. Abbott's order will create chaos, says Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county's chief executive, who's also a Democrat.

LINA HIDALGO: Already we've received hundreds of ballots before today at these drop-off locations. And so all this is doing is - in practice, it's as if you started voting already, and you can't change the rules in the middle of it.

SCHNEIDER: The county has joined a federal lawsuit against the Abbott administration, asking to reverse the governor's order and allow multiple drop-off sites per county. Mark Gaber is litigation director for the Campaign Legal Center, which filed the suit.

MARK GABER: Typically, these sorts of election disputes do get prompt treatment from the court. I would expect the court to have a hearing in short order on the request for an injunction. And, you know, courts - federal courts typically understand the need for urgency in these types of cases.

SCHNEIDER: Abbott's office did not respond to interview requests.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Schneider in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.