Fort Bend County has created a couple of measures to help people safely cast their votes in the upcoming election. But one of those measures was eliminated by a declaration by Gov. Greg Abbott.
County Judge KP George announced at a press conference in Sugar Land on Thursday that the county would allow all its annex offices to receive mail-in ballots for those who want to drop their ballots off instead of mailing them. The annex offices are located in large county cities like Sugar Land, Katy and Missouri City.
But a couple of hours after George’s announcement, Abbott issued an executive order to limit locations of dropping off mail-in ballots to only one place in each county. In Fort Bend County, that location is the Rosenberg Annex, which the election offices are located.
Also, Abbott’s order allows “poll watchers to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.”
Abbott also waived his mask-wearing mandate at polling locations. He said the moves were to protect the “integrity of our elections.”
“As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state,” Abbott said in a statement. “These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
However, Democrats across the state see Abbott’s order as an obvious tool to suppress the vote.
“This is a cowardly act of voter suppression, plain and simple,” Sri Preston Kulkarni, the Democratic candidate for U.S. House District 22, said in a statement. “As we face a public health and economic crisis and the most important election of our lifetime, our leaders should be ensuring that everyone can vote safely, not actively sabotaging our election process.
“Texas leaders are actively playing politics with Texans’ lives because they’re afraid of losing an election.”
George, a Democrat, said that he wanted to create the extra drop-off locations because he had heard concerns from some concerned residents about using the postal service to mail in their ballots.
“We want to make sure that fair access to all of our citizens to exercise their right to vote,” he said at the press conference.
After Abbott’s order was announced, George expressed his frustrations. “Apparent attempts to suppress the vote like this one prove that American democracy is on the ballot in November,” he said in a tweet.
John Oldham, the elections administrator for Fort Bend County, said that there are over 36,000 mail-in ballots that have already been processed. The deadline for applying for a mail-in ballot in Texas is on Oct. 23.
George also announced that the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land will become a “voting mega-site” for early voting and on Election Day. The entertainment arena will now hold over 60 voting machines and will allow voters to safely vote while adhering to social distancing measures.
“Fort Bend County is so blessed to have so many community partners who are in business, but put their business interests on the side so that they can do things to make our community better,” George said.
The voting machines used at the Smart Financial Centre would have been at other voting locations around the county, but were not going to be used in order to maintain social distancing at other locations.