A polling station in Texas
The governor of Texas has ordered that voters can only submit their postal ballot papers in the run-up to the presidential election in one place per county.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott said the move would stop illegal voting.
Critics have accused Mr. Abbott of voter suppression, pointing out that in some cases this means thousands of voters must go to an employee’s office.
In the weeks leading up to the election, the districts will have to close down the distribution points for satellite votes.
Texas is the second largest US state and it would be a huge win for candidates in the November 3rd election. The state has been reliably republican in modern presidential competitions.
Many more voters are expected to vote by mail this time around or cast their ballots due to the pandemic.
Mail-in voting logs vary slightly from state to state, but in Texas, eligible early voters will be able to cast their ballots starting this month.
Several of the state’s largest counties already had multiple drop-off points in place. Harris County, home of the city of Houston and around four million residents, is now having to close eleven dispensing points, the Houston Chronicle reported.
In addition to questioning how potentially millions of urban Texans need to visit a single drop off point, moving can also be problematic for rural residents who are spread across the state – which is also the second largest in America by area.
The order takes effect on Friday.
In a statement following Thursday’s decision, Abbott quoted Covid-19 as calling for electoral security protocols to be strengthened.
“These extended security protocols provide more transparency and help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
Numerous national and state studies over the years have found no evidence of serious, widespread postal voting fraud.
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Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa responded to the announcement by accusing “terrified” Republicans of trying to change the rules while “on the verge of losing”.
Mr. Hinojosa added that US courts have said it is too late to make changes to the electoral rules, “but our failed Republican leadership will try anyway”.
Abbott’s proclamation will create “widespread voter confusion and suppression,” Harris County official Chris Hollins said in a statement. Harris County, which includes Houston, is the most populous county in the state.
“For weeks several delivery points have been advertised,” he said. “Forcing hundreds of thousands of seniors and voters with disabilities to use a single drop-off point … is detrimental and dangerous.”
Abbott’s order also states that election officials must allow election observers to be present at the drop-off point.
Election observers are people who can look out for violations of the electoral law at the polling station and during the counting process. You cannot intimidate or talk to voters.
President Donald Trump has urged his supporters to become election observers while proposing to rig the elections.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how big the state of Texas is. There are counties in the west that are as big as small US states. More than a dozen European nations live in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. It has an economy roughly the size of Russia.
Texas also has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation, with only 46.5% of the voting age population voting in 2016.
These numbers are not improved by Governor Abbott’s decision to designate only one voting location per district across the state. It will be a nuisance in densely populated areas like Houston, where traffic and density make travel slow, and in the west, where wide open spaces make it difficult.
While the state has a robust early voting system in place, given concerns over face-to-face voting during the Covid-19 pandemic, vulnerable Texas may prefer to limit exposure.
The left will see Mr Abbott’s decision, in conjunction with other Republican efforts to limit postal voting, especially in democratic-trending urban areas, as an attempt to prevent their party from winning, or perhaps even voting for, important state elections For the first time since 1976, a Democratic presidential candidate.
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