Not only is it happening across the country, but it’s happening right here in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent proclamation limits counties to just one drop-off location for those who wish to use mail-in ballots. There is no grey area. There is no way to sell this to Texans as an ethical choice. Let me tell you why.
Texas has been steadfast in its reopening since the beginning of the pandemic. Most restaurants can currently operate at 75 percent capacity. More recently, with the approval of county judges, bars are allowed to open at 50 percent. I can now get a whiskey and coke at Northgate with 100 of my closest friends. However, if I want to perform my civic duty as an American and Texan, it comes with a caveat.
It makes no sense that I can dine at a restaurant or go to a bar near other people, but I can’t have the option of casting my ballot in more than one location.
You may be asking yourself, “What’s so bad about having one drop off location?” One example of the negative repercussions of a singular drop off location can be seen less than 100 miles south of College Station.
Harris County is the largest county in Texas. In 2018, there were 2.36 million registered voters in the county. Of that 2.36 million, 1.22 million people voted. Let’s say 10 percent of the number of people who voted in 2018 decided to vote using a mail-in ballot. That would come out to 121,921 people. To expect over 100,000 people to drive to one location to drop off their ballots, when there were previously 12 locations, is absurd.
Voting in-person was already a hurdle for many people. Some rely on rideshare programs to get them to the polls. Worrying about getting to your closest drop-off ballot location when you cannot go to the polls on your own is stressful enough. If getting to the polls was already an issue for you, this proclamation would exacerbate that. Now, in a county that is 1,700 square miles, you may have to venture far beyond where you typically would to cast your ballot.
The reason for Abbott’s proclamation? He says it’s an election security measure. That’s laughable.
The governor believes one drop-off location per county will enhance poll watchers’ ability to observe individuals dropping off their mail-in ballots. The reality is that the governor is taking advantage of the pandemic to suppress voters. It is not a coincidence that the counties most affected by this proclamation are democratic strongholds, such as Harris and Travis counties. If fewer people can vote in these counties, that equates to fewer votes for Democratic candidates. As a lifelong Republican voter, the idea of this is genuinely troubling. But hey, never let a good crisis go to waste, right?
There is good news! Well, kind of.
A federal judge said, “Not buying it” to Abbott’s proclamation. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman said in a recent ruling, “It is apparent that closing ballot return centers at the last minute would cause confusion, especially when those centers were deemed safe, authorized and, in fact, advertised as a convenient option just months ago.” However, that decision has already been appealed to a panel of three judges on the U.S. 5th Circuit. Due to the appeal, they have put the order by Judge Pitman on hold. Whether this issue gets fully resolved by the time voters cast their ballots on Election Day is unclear. Ultimately, this is like a game of poker. The judges are calling bluffs, and the governor thinks he has an ace in his pocket. Abbott is now patiently waiting to see how his hand plays out.
Texans are a proud people. You won’t find another state with more pride and love for the place we call home. This self-confidence is why we have to do better. This dignity is why we have to hold those in power accountable.
Early voting started two days ago, and Election Day is less than three weeks away. Democrat or Republican, show Gov. Abbott that he will not suppress your voice. Give us one drop off location or 20 — Texans always find a way to get the job done. To think otherwise is insulting.
Our voices will be heard.
Sam Somogye is a political science senior and columnist for The Battalion. His column is typically published online every other Monday when not in the Thursday newspaper.