Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott limited all 254 counties to a single site where absentee ballots can be dropped off in a move that he claims is meant to stop illegal voting but has led advocacy groups to claim voter suppression. He has refused to expand mail-in voting as a cautionary measure due to the coronavirus and shutdown satellite locations for Texans allowed to vote by mail.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo slammed Abbott’s decision, noting that the county where she serves as the chief elected official is bigger than Rhode Island. “This isn’t security, it’s suppression,” she said in a tweet.
Harris County is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, and we're supposed to have 1 site? This isn't security, it's suppression. Mail ballot voters shouldn't have to drive 30 miles to drop off their ballot, or rely on a mail system that’s facing cutbacks. https://t.co/IeKwzdB0Hb
— Lina Hidalgo (@LinaHidalgoTX) October 1, 2020
Opponents are saying the restrictions affect communities like the elderly and those with health concerns as well as the Latino population. They make up nearly 40 percent of the population, the second-largest in the nation, and 28 percent of all voters in Texas are Latino, according to Pew Research Center. Additionally, of the more than 15,000 Covid-19 deaths in Texas so far, 56.1 percent are Latino. In Starr County, northeast from the border, nearly all the residents are Latino and 65 percent live in poverty, one in 17 people have already contracted the virus The Intercept reports.
It’s for these reasons that advocacy groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund say Abbot’s announcement is a thinly veiled attempt at voter suppression.
President and General Counsel for Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund Thomas Saenz told NBC News that if the intention was to facilitate voter participation remote and early voting would be accessible options as well as multiple polling places.
“That is not what Texas is doing,” Saenz told the publication. “That’s for a reason. Texas authorities know they are suppressing the vote.”
Education and income are known factors in voter turnout and Texas Latinos’ voter registration is lower than that of Latinos in other parts of the country, so these factors aren’t the only explanation according to Saenz. “Given Texas’ history, you have to believe some of that is obviously linked to race,” he said.
“Voter suppression is alive and well and we’ve known this since Move Texas started in 2013. We really had to help young people overcome these barriers set up by the state,” Drew Galloway, Move Texas executive director. told NBC News.
Another concern locals have is a provision Abbott announced allowing poll watchers “to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.” Some are alleging it’s a direct response to Trump’s comment during the presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden telling his supports to watch the polls carefully.
The Intercept spoke with Danny Diaz organizer with La Unión del Pueblo Entero who lives in Hidalgo County, fears consequently poll watchers will feel emboldened and bullying of Biden supporters will increase. “If you have a Biden sticker, they’re bullying you. I’m afraid that attitude, the way they behave, their rudeness — all that energy is going to go into this poll watching.”
“The rule right now allows a person to fill out his or her ballot and mail it in, drop it off at an early-polling site or at the Election Administrator’s office. You can also take it on November 3rd to the poll location. That’s the rule. He wants to change that and plain and simple, it’s another form of voter suppression,” Luis Roberto Vera, Jr., General Counsel, League of United Latin American Citizens said in a statement. “Saying no, you have to mail it in. He knows all the problems with the mail right now and the fact they cut back on the postal service machinery. Still, Governor Abbott is trying to force everybody to mail in their ballot knowing that there will be votes lost. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that you cannot change the rules at the last minute. What Governor Abbott did is disgraceful.”