Texas restrictions allowing only a single drop-box for mail-in ballots in each county were reinstated by a federal appeals court, which said the governor’s concerns about ballot security outweigh voting-rights activists’ worries that millions of voters won’t be able to safely access the drop box.

The federal appeals court in New Orleans late Monday sided with Gov. Greg Abbott, R, who on Oct. 1 ordered the shuttering of multiple drop boxes where thousands of ballots in some of Texas’s largest counties were already collected.

Though a Republican bulwark in recent decades, Texas is a toss-up this year, and its populous urban areas lean Democratic. Harris County, the nation’s third-largest county by population and home to Houston, had for weeks advertised a dozen ballot drop-box sites to serve 2.4 million registered voters spread over almost 2,000 square miles.

A worker puts a ballot into a lock box at a drive-through mail ballot hand-delivery center in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 2, 2020. A three-judge appellate panel — all appointed by President Donald Trump – has reinstated Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that each county would only be allowed one drop-off box for mail-in ballots. Bloomberg photo by Sergio Flores

The three-judge appellate panel — all appointed by President Donald Trump — accepted Abbott’s claim that multiple drop boxes create opportunities for voter fraud, although the state presented no evidence such fraud exists. The judges said no proof of actual voter fraud was necessary to justify the state’s protective measures.

The Texas counties with mail-ballot drop boxes were requiring voters to show photo ID and sign a register before personally handing in their ballot, just as Texans must do when voting at the polls. Abbott complained, however, there wouldn’t be enough poll watchers to monitor all the drop sites for an entire month preceding the election.

County officials said they expect more than 300,000 Houstonians to vote by mail in the presidential election, with many opting to hand-deliver their ballots to avoid postal delays that could prevent their ballots from arriving in time to be counted.

The appellate panel dismissed activists’ concerns about untimely postal performance as well as vulnerable voters’ fear of risking their health by gathering in crowds to vote or drop off ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. The judges said voters who don’t want to be inconvenienced by driving farther or waiting in long lines to hand-deliver their ballots could drop them in the mail or vote in-person instead.

Critics called Abbott’s last-minute restriction a naked attempt at voter suppression. Texas countered that judges and the public have no right to second-guess policy choices elected officials make when dealing with an evolving public-health emergency.

Luis Roberto Vera Jr., national general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens which is leading the drop-box challenge, said late Monday the activists are discussing whether they will appeal the ruling.

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