Thanks to them, there will be just one ballot drop-off box for all of Houston.
Three federal judges who were appointed by Donald Trump ruled Monday that Texas can make it harder to vote during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Their reasoning: the latest rule came after a previous set of rules aimed at making it easier to vote.
The judges are among more than 200 judges appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate since January 2017. Trump's picks now account for more than one-fifth of the entire federal judiciary.
Late Monday night, Judges James Ho, Kyle Duncan, and Don Willett of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a stay of a lower court order, effectively allowing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to severely curtail the number of ballot drop-off boxes available for absentee voters.
On Oct. 1, Abbott announced that every Texas county — regardless of size or population — would be limited to just one drop box for the Nov. 3 election.
In the late-night ruling, the three-judge panel upheld Abbott's decision, writing that in the governor's opinion, multiple ballot delivery locations "threatened election uniformity and security." The judges framed Abbott's decision as merely "refining" his previous "expansion" of voting options.
In their decision, the judges compared state voting rules before and after the start of the pandemic, arguing that Abbott's move to limit the number of drop box locations was part of a broader effort to make it easier to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words: one drop box per county is better than none.
"Leaving the Governor’s October 1 Proclamation in place still gives Texas absentee voters many ways to cast their ballots in the November 3 election," the panel ruled. "These methods for remote voting outstrip what Texas law previously permitted in a pre-COVID world. The October 1 Proclamation abridges no one’s right to vote."
Josh Douglas, a professor of election law and voting rights at the University of Kentucky, blasted the ruling on Tuesday, tweeting, "Implausibly, the court finds that the Tex. Gov's decision expands the right to vote instead of restricts it. Up is down."
"People throw around the term 'voter suppression' a lot but you can always count on Texas to provide real examples," Douglas added.
The appellate panel's decision froze a Friday order by a federal district judge which found "ballot security" was merely "a pretext" for Abbott's order, which doesn't actually do anything to protect ballot security. The federal judge said Abbott's restrictions will make voting more difficult for citizens who are "older, sick, or have disabilities that prevent them from voting in person, and are thus at particularly high risk of COVID-19."
Ironically, the same conservative Fifth Circuit ruled weeks ago that a Democratic lawsuit seeking to restore the state's straight-ticket voting option was too late, as changes to the voting system should not be made close to the Nov. 3 election. Monday's ruling upholding Abbott's voter restrictions came just 22 days before the election.
Harris County is home to Houston, the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest city in the country. This year, during a pandemic that continues to wreak havoc across Texas, the county's two million registered voters will have just one location to securely drop off their ballots if they do not wish to vote in person or by mail.
Other populous and sprawling counties will also have a one-box limit.
This is just the latest example of Republicans working to make it harder for people to vote — even as the pandemic continues to force millions of Americans to stay at home to avoid getting the coronavirus.
Trump has sued to block mail-in voting and ballot drop boxes in swing states that could decide the presidential election. The Trump administration has also worked to undermine the U.S. Postal Service. Trump has raved about the election being "rigged" against him while working to rig the election in his favor. Republicans at the state level have followed Trump's lead by pushing through legislation aimed at disenfranchising citizens.
If Trump and his GOP allies are able to ram through Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court before the election, Trump will have nominated fully one-third of the high court's justices. Experts have warned that the court's 6-3 conservative majority could destroy what's left of the Voting Rights Act.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.