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AUSTIN — A federal judge in Austin blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting the number of mail ballot drop-off sites a county can have.

In an order issued late Friday night, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin put on hold Abbott’s order thereby allowing counties to have multiple mail ballot drop-off sites.

The order said agents of the state are blocked from taking any action to inhibit election administrators from offering more than one drop-off location for ballots in their respective counties.

The decision, issued by a Barack Obama appointee, is a blow to Abbott who argued the drop-off limit is aimed at preventing voter fraud. It is a major victory for voting rights groups and voters who decried the Republican governor’s move as a voter suppression tactic. The decision is likely to be appealed to the more conservative U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Abbott issued his order on Oct. 1, nearly two weeks after counties had started sending mail ballots to voters. Some counties, like Harris, which covers more than 1,700 square miles, had announced multiple locations where voters could drop off their mail ballots.

Other counties, like Travis and Fort Bend, followed Harris’ lead in announcing multiple drop-off sites. But Abbott’s order, which altered a previous order he had issued in July, limited counties to one drop-off location.

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