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Limits on ballot drop-off sites have some Texans worried about suppression

More than 22 million Americans have already voted, including 2.5 million in Texas. Harris County, home to Houston, is seeing increased volume in early voting, with some residents making use of a new drive-through option during the pandemic. But some are also concerned about voter suppression due to the restricted number of ballot drop-off locations. Daniel Bush joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    While the candidates continue to make their cases, more than 22 million Americans have already voted, including 2.5 million ballots in Texas, where early voting began this week.

    Our Daniel Bush has been reporting in the state, and he joins us now from Houston.

    So, Dan, hello.

    We know, earlier this week, you were in Georgia reporting on early voting there during the pandemic. You have spent now, what, a couple of days in the Houston area, Harris County.

    What are you seeing in terms of voting there?

  • Daniel Bush:

    Well, Judy, Texas is one of only just five states where the pandemic itself is not an excuse to cast a mail-in ballot. So the only people who can vote by mail here through absentee ballots are people aged 65 and older or who are disabled and meet a couple other criteria.

    A lot of those voters, though, are choosing to hand those ballots in person. They don't trust the mail system. But the governor here, a Republican, Greg Abbott, has made that harder by limiting these drop box locations where you can drop off those ballots to just one per county.

    Here in Houston in Harris County, that single location is outside of a football stadium. You can see the images there. It's not very accessible, though, however, for people without a car or on foot.

    Democrats have argued that this is blatant voter suppression in a county that is 40 percent African-American and Latino. Republicans, however, have defended this move and pointed out that there are other ways that voting has been expanded through a larger early voting window and new for the first time in Texas drive-through voting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's so interesting, because Harris County, what, 2.4 million residents, only one drop-off voting ballot place.

    Quickly, Dan, what are voters telling you about how they sense what their options are for voting? How much — do they know how much — how concerned are they?

  • Daniel Bush:

    Well, there's a range of views, certainly a lot of concern. Other people who said that it was a roughly — a fairly easy process, I should say.

    Let's take a look at two voters and what they had to say about how they voted.

  • Sonia Alcocer:

    I feel like he's trying to suppress the voters by only having one drop box, especially for Harris County, for being the fourth largest city in the U.S. He's trying to suppress the voters, especially since he Republican. He's trying to suppress the poor people by making it harder for them to vote.

  • Mark McNitt:

    I have some underlying health issues. And with the COVID virus, I thought might be a little less — less crowded, or just being in my car, I'd be around less people in this setting.

    And being in Texas, it gets warm, and being out in the sun for maybe an hour, hour-and-a-half waiting in line, it just wasn't going to work for me. So, with the drive-through, there's less people vs. the more traditional polling place.

  • Daniel Bush:

    And there you saw that drive-through voter, Judy.

    That was part of an effort by the Harris County clerk, the official in charge of voting in Harris County, a Democrat, to expand voting. He gave me a tour of the headquarters there. And there are hundreds of workers as we speak processing ballots and preparing for the election in November.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Dan, with all the issues swirling around how people are going to vote, what are the expectations there for turnout, ultimately?

  • Daniel Bush:

    Well, Judy, you noted the numbers at the beginning.

    The first three days of early voting here in Texas saw record turnout. Officials say they expect that to continue. Hundreds of thousands, they expect of increased early voters from 2016, double the number of additional or extra absentee ballots requested and they expect to be cast.

    So, turnout right now is up in Texas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dan Bush, reporting for us from Houston, Harris County, Texas.

    Thank you, Dan.

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