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Groups sue Texas governor to block limits on drops for mail ballots

FILE - In this June 21, 2019 file photo, Gov. Greg Abbott, left, speaks at a news conference at the Capitol, in Austin, Texas. Abbott says the state will reject the re-settlement of new refugees, becoming the first state known to do so under a recent Trump administration order. In a letter released Friday, Jan, 10, 2020, Abbott wrote that Texas "has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system." He added that Texas, which typically takes in thousands of refugees each year, has done "more than its share." Governors in 42 other states have said they will consent to allowing in more refugees, according to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.(Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Civil rights and voter advocacy groups have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block an order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that dramatically reduced the number of drop-off locations for mail ballots.

The lawsuit filed late Thursday could be the first
of many legal challenges against Abbott’s order that assigns just one
drop-off location in each of Texas’ 254 counties and allows poll
watchers to observe ballot deliveries. The order, which took effect Friday, shutters dozens of sites statewide, including in Texas’ largest cities and Democratic strongholds.

Republican governor said the order is needed to ensure election
security — echoing calls from President Donald Trump for his supporters
to keep close watch on mail-in voting, but Democrats blasted it as blatant voter suppression.

lawsuit filed in Austin names Abbott, Texas Secretary of State Ruth
Hughs and election administrators in Harris, Fort Bend, Travis and El
Paso counties. It was filed by the Texas League of United Latin American
Citizens; the National League of United Latin American Citizens; the
League of Women Voters of Texas; and two voters.

Abbott’s order
would eliminate 11 drop-off locations in Harris County, which includes
the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston.

Harris County Clerk
Chris Hollins, who is named in the lawsuit, said during a news
conference Friday that Abbott’s move would force elderly and disabled
people to drive long distances and wait in long lines to cast their
ballot. He said he, too, would fight Abbott’s order.

something he should strongly reconsider and if he doesn’t reconsider
himself he is going to hear about it in the courts,” Hollins said of

Hollins is also named in a lawsuit from Abbott calling for the Harris County Clerk’s Office to stop plans to send mail ballot applications to the county’s more than 2 million registered voters.

Abbott’s staff said he was not limiting voting, pointing out that he has increased the period during which voters can submit their mail-in ballots in person to include anytime up to Election Day.

additional time provided for those who want to submit their mail-in
ballot in person is sufficient to accommodate the limited number of
people who have traditionally used that voting strategy,” the governor’s
office said in a statement.

Prominent members of the state Republican Party sued Abbott in September seeking to halt a one-week extension of early voting.

have already begun returning ballots for the November presidential
election. Texas is one of just five states not allowing widespread
mail-in voting this year. To qualify for a mail-in ballot, 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.

Polls also show much tighter races in Texas this year. Democrats could take over the state House of Representatives for the first time in two decades.

years, Texas had allowed straight-ticket voting, but Abbott signed a
law in 2017 that eliminated the option starting this fall. Democrats
sued to have it reinstated to reduce wait times for in-person voting,
but a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that November’s elections are too close for Texas to restore straight-ticket voting as an option.

U.S. Postal Service informed Texas in July that, given the state’s
current mail ballot request deadline, some ballots may not be delivered
to voters by Election Day, and that even if all ballots reached voters
on time, there was a “significant risk” that completed ballots
postmarked on or near Election Day would not be received by the state’s
Nov. 4 deadline.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office has not
responded to Associated Press requests for comment on its plans to
ensure the timely delivery of ballots.