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Executive order that limited the number of ballot boxes per county was blocked by federal judge

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Early voting kicks off this week, but an executive order that took effect less than a couple weeks earlier called into question whether or not voters had the flexibility to perform their civic duties.

Greg Abbott issued an executive order that would have limited ballot boxes to one per county in the state of Texas. Given that counties such as Harris span many cities, it would have voters far from the boxes travel a great distance just to drop off their ballot.

“The changes will have a greater effect among older voters and those voters who live farther away from downtown,” said political science department professor Brandon Rottinghaus.

“In districts like the second congressional district or the House District 132 in west Houston, the distance to drive a ballot is longer now, potentially impacting those races,” Rottinghaus continued.

Rottinghaus said that it is now up to the courts to determine whether or not this order is an effort to impede Texas voters from casting their ballot. 

“The courts could slap down the order as an unconstitutional expansion of executive power, or a voting rights violation or they may find the governor has this authority in an emergency like the pandemic,” said Rottinghaus.

There have been federal lawsuits against the order claiming that this could be dangerous for voters who are older and have disabilities, as this would mean they might have to vote in person and be potentially exposed to the virus rather than driving a longer distance to drop off their ballot.

On Friday, a couple days before early voting began, a federal judge blocked the order, ruling that this would endanger voters that are vulnerable and refuted Abbott’s claim that this measure would decrease the chances of voter fraud occurring.

Although the injunction may prevent the executive order from taking effect, there are still many restrictions for voters to apply for and receive mail-in ballots.

Per the Texas secretary of state website, to apply for an application for a mail-in ballot an individual must be older than 65, sick or disabled, out of the country or in jail but are still eligible to vote. 

There haven’t been any updates to this list of requirements to allow the use of mail-in ballots  for any other reason, including the fear of contracting COVID-19.

“The rules to vote in Texas are among the most miserly in the nation, making it difficult to vote,” said Rottinghaus. “States have the right, more or less, to facilitate voting in their jurisdictions, so changing the laws likely would necessitate changing who makes the laws.”

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