(Reuters) – A Texas judge on Thursday lifted an order by Republican Governor Greg Abbott that limited counties to a single drop-off location for absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 presidential election, siding with Democrats who have denounced the limit as voter suppression.
“The limitation to a single drop-off location for mail ballots would likely needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections, and needlessly and unreasonably substantially burden voters’ constitutionally protected rights to vote,” said state court judge Tim Sulak, who sits in Austin, in a short written order.
Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment but he was expected to appeal.
Texas is a longtime Republican stronghold but this year President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden are fighting a tight race for the state’s electoral votes.
Abbott’s order increases travel time for some voters who want to return absentee ballots in person rather than by mail. The governor has said the limit is needed to prevent voter fraud.
The fight between Republicans and Democrats over absentee ballots has become a defining issue of the 2020 election.
Absentee voting is expected to surge due to the coronavirus pandemic. Texas is one of a few U.S. states that limits who can request absentee ballots: Only voters who are over the age of 65, have a disability, are confined to a jail or will be out of town on Election Day can vote by mail.
Trump and his fellow Republicans have sought to limit drop boxes in many states, arguing without evidence that they could enable voting fraud.
Democrats have promoted drop boxes as a reasonable and reliable option for voters who do not want to risk voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it also reduces the possibility of U.S. Postal Service delivery problems.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by David Gregorio)