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Federal appeals court reinstates Texas absentee ballot drop box limit

Federal appeals court reinstates Texas absentee ballot drop box limit

14.10.2020 | Cassie Maas | U. Pittsburgh School of Law, US OCTOBER 13, 2020 02:42:43 PM | 59

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Monday reinstated Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s order limiting absentee ballot drop boxes to one location per county, regardless of population.

In response to COVID-19, Abbott issued various proclamations pertaining to the November election. This included allowing early voting six days earlier than normal and allowing voters to hand-deliver mail-in ballots anytime until Election Day. This gives voters an extra 40 days to hand-deliver their marked absentee ballots.

Some larger Texas counties wanted multiple delivery locations for the ballots, but the governor issued an order on October 1 specifying that ballots could only be hand-delivered to one designated location in each county. He believed that having multiple delivery locations would threaten election uniformity and security. Several voters’ rights groups and individual voters filed suit on the same day, claiming the order violated the Equal Protection Clause and their fundamental right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

On Friday US District Judge Robert Pitman granted a preliminary injunction against the governor’s order. Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs appealed and filed for an emergency stay and a temporary administrative stay. The Fifth Circuit issued a temporary stay on Saturday that allowed Abbott to limit each county to one drop-off site for absentee ballots.

On Monday the Fifth Circuit reinstated the governor’s order, finding that the district court “vastly overstated the ‘character and magnitude’ of the burden allegedly placed on voting rights.” The governor’s proclamation actually expanded the previous opportunities for voters to hand-deliver their ballots, which was normally only allowed on Election Day. The proclamation made it easier for individuals to vote, and “a law that makes it easier for others to vote does not abridge any person’s right to vote.”

At the very most, there would be a de minimis burden on the right to vote, as some individuals would have to travel further to deposit their ballots. Texans still had other options for voting, which included voting early in-person starting on October 13 and mailing the absentee ballot.

The court noted that states have “critically important interests in the orderly administration of elections” and in reducing voter fraud. Additionally, a state suffered irreparable harm when it was prevented from effectuating its own election procedures.

Because of this, the court granted an emergency motion for stay pending appeal. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit similarly limited ballot drop boxes to one box per Ohio county in a ruling Friday.

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