Texas governor restricts mail-in ballot drop-off locations

Signs direct traffic at a drive-through ballot drop off location at the Travis County Tax Office in Austin, Texas, on Thursday Oct. 1, 2020. (Jay Janner /Austin American-Statesman via AP)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The number of locations where Texas voters can drop off their mail-in ballots has been vastly reduced to ensure poll security, Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday.

Beginning on October 2, mail ballots delivered in person by eligible voters can be delivered to locations designated by each county’s early voting clerk. There will be no more than one drop-off location per county. Poll watchers may observe in-person ballot deliveries at each location.

“These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting,” Abbott, a Republican, said.

Harris County, which includes Houston, had 12 drop-off locations for the county’s more than 2 million registered voters as of September. Travis County, which includes the state capital of Austin, had four. Each county covers an area of more than 1,000 square miles (2,600 square kilometers), and other counties are individually as large as 6,000 square miles (15,500 square kilometers). Texas has 254 counties.

Polls show unusually tight races this year in America’s biggest red state, intensifying battles over voting access. Texas is one of just five states not allowing widespread mail-in voting this year. Abbott has resisted calls to expand eligibility and courts have sided with GOP leaders who say fear of catching COVID-19 doesn’t qualify voters for mail-in ballots.

To qualify for a mail-in ballot in Texas, voters must be: away from their county of residence on Election Day and during the early voting period; sick or disabled; confined in jail but otherwise eligible to vote; or 65 years old or more.

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