WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today led a group of 19 state 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 shutters 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. The District of Columbia has been active in protecting voting access nationwide, having recently led state coalitions to stop other voter suppression efforts in Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
“Rather than taking responsible steps to make voting safer during this pandemic, Texas authorities are intentionally making voting more difficult and more dangerous, forcing voters, particularly in areas populated by Black, brown, and Democratic voters, to travel longer distances, wait in longer lines, and risk exposure to COVID-19 to cast their ballots,” said AG Racine. “Why else would Texas reduce the availability of mail ballot drop boxes from 12 to one in Harris County, one of the largest and most diverse counties in Texas? This blatant and transparent attempt to suppress the vote is unlawful. Our coalition of state Attorneys General will continue to protect access to absentee voting nationwide and ensure every voter is heard.”
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, including the District, especially given recent crises engulfing the United States Postal Service (USPS). Several states and the District 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 October 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 Governor 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, 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, an additional 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, like the District, 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.
The brief is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-10/TX-LULAC-v-Hughs-Amicus.pdf
AG Racine is leading today’s friend-of-the-court brief and is joined by Attorneys General from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Protecting Voter Participation
Last week, AG Racine led a 17-state coalition opposing Mississippi’s restrictive vote-by-mail requirements, including limits on vote-by-mail eligibility and requiring notarization of mail-in ballots, which could expose voters to COVID-19 and suppress the vote. He also recently led coalitions supporting access to mail-in ballots in South Carolina and Texas, and secured a preliminary injunction stopping U.S. Postal Service cuts that threatened the right to vote for millions of Americans planning to vote by mail during the pandemic. This follows efforts over the summer opposing unfair voting restrictions against returning citizens in Florida and North Carolina.
Voting in the District of Columbia
District residents can find information about registering to vote and voting by mail or in person in the November election on the D.C. Board of Elections website: www.dcboe.org. In the District, all active voters will be mailed a ballot. Voters can return their mail-in ballot by mail using the enclosed prepaid envelope, but it must be postmarked by Election Day and arrive no later than Nov. 13. Voters can also drop off their ballot at one of dozens of drop box locations before 8:00 p.m. on Election Day or at one of the vote centers during early voting or on Election Day. Mail-in ballots will start to arrive during the first week of October, but if voters do not receive a ballot by October 21, officials recommend planning to vote in person.
If voters don’t plan to vote by mail, they can find convenient early vote and Election Day vote centers online, which will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. during early voting and from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Registered voters can vote at any of the vote centers during early voting and on Election Day.
OAG also recently published a Voter Advisory on Poll Monitoring to educate residents about protections against voter intimidation and a D.C. Voter Checklist to encourage residents to make a plan to vote.