Federal judge heard arguments today in case against Harris County’s drive-through voter system

The Supreme Court of Texas on Sunday denied a request by plaintiffs to reject more than 100,000 ballots cast by drive-through voters in Harris County. It was their second request asking the court to intervene, and it was the second time the high court refused.

The plaintiffs, four Republican heavy-hitters in the state, first filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court to intervene to halt drive-through voting, which is an extension of curbside voting. The plaintiffs include state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, who is running for re-election, Sharon Hemphill, a Republican judicial candidate in Harris County, a Republican congressional candidate, Wendell Champion, and prominent Harris County Republican Dr. Steven Hotze.

They argue drive-thru voting should be ruled illegal and halted because it violates state election law. Curbside voting was never intended to allow people to vote inside of their cars; it is designed to enable voters with confirmed illnesses or disabilities who are unable to vote inside a polling place an alternative way to vote, they argue.

The all-Republican court rejected the petition Oct. 22 without comment. Justice John Devine filed a dissenting opinion, noting that drive-through voting appeared to violate state election law.

Within a few days, the plaintiffs appealed to the court again, asking it to throw out the ballots that had been cast from inside of people’s cars.

On Sunday, the court again denied their request, again without comment.

However, the high court had ruled last week that Gov. Greg Abbott could limit drop-off sites for mail-in ballots in response to an Oct. 3 proclamation he issued, reversing efforts by Harris County and other counties that had set up multiple drop-off locations.

And an emergency hearing was held Monday morning before U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen on a similar challenge by the same plaintiffs. Both cases were brought by Houston-based attorney Jared Woodfill on behalf of the same plaintiffs.

The federal complaint adds that the drive-through voter apparatus not only violates Texas Election Code but also violates Article I, Sec. 4, cl. 1 of the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Petitioners are asking a federal judge to intervene.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen will also decide “on a request made by Democratic organizations and the party’s U.S. Senate candidate, MJ Hegar, to join the case in defense of drive-through voting – and the 126,911 votes cast “through this method,” the Austin-American Statesman reports. Democrats argue the Republicans’ request was made too late and the court intervening now would create mass confusion and “disenfranchise voters” who already voted inside of their cars.

State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, also urged voters who voted in their cars to “’protect your vote’ by taking advantage of free legal assistance and intervene in the federal lawsuit,” the Statesman reports.

The plaintiffs argue the real suppression is the court “allowing an illegal voting scheme that invites corruption and fraud [which] is tantamount to voter suppression because legal votes will be nullified by illegal votes.”

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, who has only held the position for a few months and in an interim capacity, “continues to ignore the Texas Election Code and break the law,” Woodfill told The Center Square.

Woodfill adds that because of problems with the drive-through voting system, many of these votes may not be counted after all.

He told The Center Square, “We are now discovering that thousands who thought they cast a drive-thru vote were mistaken. Hollins program did properly record the vote and it will likely not be counted. This is what happens when one person unilaterally attempts to create a manner of voting not recognized under the law. We are hopeful the federal court will stop this illegal manner of voting.”

Hollins’ office maintains that curbside or drive-through voting will help decrease the spread of the coronavirus and make voting more accessible to registered voters.

It is the first time drive-through voting has been conducted in Texas history, and it was implemented outside of the legislative process. In 2019, the state legislature rejected a drive-through voting bill similar to the mechanism Hollins has implemented.



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