LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined 18 other attorneys general in supporting a challenge to a Texas Executive Proclamation that limits the number of absentee ballot drop-off sites in the state to one per county and closes down sites that were already open.
The lawsuit, filed by a group of Texas voters and voting-rights organizations, claims that reducing drop-off sites forces voters to travel potentially long distances to cast their ballots, threatening their ability to vote and their health during the pandemic. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in Texas League of United Latin American Citizens v. Hughs in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the multistate coalition opposes the proclamation, arguing that states have a responsibility to tailor their election rules to protect voter participation and voter safety during the pandemic. The brief also argues that voter fraud is extremely rare and that making voting more accessible through drop-off sites does not lead to widespread fraud.
“There is absolutely no logical reason for the Governor of the second largest state in this country to limit absentee ballot drop-off sites to one per county,” said Nessel. “In the midst of a global pandemic and election year, voting must be safe and accessible for everyone. This move so close to the election is concerning, and will disproportionately affect communities of color in Texas. This appears to be an unconscionable act of voter suppression.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, states across the country have modified their election procedures to protect both voter participation and the health of voters and election workers. Expanding access to absentee ballot drop-off sites is a popular solution adopted by many states, especially given recent crises engulfing the United States Postal Service (USPS). Several states and the District of Columbia recently sued to stop USPS cuts that threatened mail service in advance of Election Day. The court there issued a preliminary injunction preventing the operational changes that would undermine mail delivery. Despite this win, some voters remain concerned about USPS’s ability to deliver election mail in a timely manner, which makes ballot drop-off sites an important option for voters.
On Oct. 1, 2020, after absentee voting had already begun, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Proclamation limiting absentee ballot drop-off boxes in the state to one per county, claiming such a move is necessary to prevent voter fraud. A group of Texas voters and voting-rights organizations filed a lawsuit to block this reduction of drop-off sites, arguing that the order threatens the health of voters and could suppress the vote. A federal district court blocked Gov. Abbott’s proclamation, and the Texas Secretary of State appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and requested that the court stay the district court’s action.
In the amicus brief– filed Monday, the coalition supports the plaintiffs’ challenge to reducing the number of absentee ballot drop-off sites because:
- States have a responsibility to protect voter participation and voter safety: States have the power to regulate elections and must do so in ways that preserve the right to vote. The overwhelming majority of states acknowledge that the risks to public health during this pandemic require accommodations to make distanced voting more accessible and safer. Many states have thus worked to make the collection of absentee ballots reliable and safe, including by expanding the availability of ballot drop-off sites. While only about a dozen states offered drop-off sites prior to this election cycle, 24 states and the District of Columbia introduced them during the pandemic. Having safe and accessible drop-off sites is particularly important in states like Texas, where elderly and disabled people are among the only voters eligible to vote absentee. In contrast, most states are permitting all voters to vote by mail amid the pandemic; many have sent vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter; and others plan to affirmatively send or have sent ballots to all registered voters.
- Reducing drop-off sites would disproportionately harm communities of color: Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, both nationally and in Texas. Reducing ballot drop-off sites forces individuals who do not wish to mail their ballots through USPS to travel potentially long distances, making it harder to vote and posing unnecessary health risks. Studies show that Latino voters are more likely than others to lack access to transportation, making trips to these single locations difficult. These voters are also disproportionately likely to be essential workers, meaning they may be denied the time and flexibility to seek out—and wait in line at—distant drop-off sites.
- Voter fraud is rare, and there is no evidence that limiting drop-off sites prevents it: Since 2000, more than 250 million people in all 50 states have voted using mail-in ballots, and in the 2016 presidential election, approximately 16% of voters nationwide submitted their ballots via drop-off boxes. Despite the prevalence of voting by mail and the use of drop-off locations, officials at the state and federal level have consistently found no evidence of widespread fraud.
Attorney General Nessel joins the attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington in filing this brief.