December 4, 2020

Drive-thru voting can stay in Harris County, Texas Supreme Court rules

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Voters within the state’s most populous county can proceed casting their ballots for the autumn election at 10 drive-thru polling locations after the Texas Supreme Courtroom on Thursday rejected a last-minute problem by the Texas and Harris County Republican events, one among many lawsuits in an election season ripe with litigation over voting entry.

The court docket rejected the problem with out an order or opinion, although Justice John Devine dissented from the choice. The justices had already dominated towards one other problem to expanded voting entry this month as a result of they mentioned the lawsuit was filed too late, noting that altering voting procedures throughout an election might trigger voter confusion.

In an effort to increase entry to voting through the pandemic, Harris County introduced in June that it could arrange 10 drive-thru polling places obtainable to all voters, the county clerk’s workplace defined in its submitting to the Supreme Courtroom. The county first examined this system with 200 voters within the July major runoff election. On the places, strains of automobiles are guided into both lined tents or a parking storage the place ballot staff examine voters’ picture identification and registration standing. Voters are handed a conveyable voting machine of their automobile to forged their ballots, the clerk’s submitting mentioned.

Voting in Texas

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By Wednesday, greater than 73,000 individuals in Harris County had voted at drive-thru polling locations, based on the clerk’s early voting totals.

Though this system was publicized for months earlier than the continued election, it was not till hours earlier than early voting began final week that the Texas Republican Celebration and a voter challenged the transfer in a state appeals court docket, arguing that drive-thru votes can be unlawful. They claimed drive-thru voting is an growth of curbside voting and subsequently ought to solely be obtainable for voters with disabilities.

Curbside voting, a long-available possibility beneath Texas election regulation, requires staff at each polling place to ship onsite curbside ballots to voters who’re “bodily unable to enter the polling place with out private help or chance of injuring the voter’s well being.” Posted indicators at polling websites notify voters to ring a bell, name a quantity or honk to request curbside help.

The lawsuit additionally requested the court docket to additional prohibit curbside voting by requiring that voters first fill out functions citing a incapacity. Such functions are required for mail-in ballots, however voting rights advocates and Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins mentioned they’ve by no means been part of curbside voting.

Hollins argued the county’s drive-thru places are separate polling locations, distinct from connected curbside spots, and subsequently obtainable to all voters. The clerk’s submitting to the Supreme Courtroom additionally mentioned the Texas secretary of state’s workplace had authorised of drive-thru voting. Keith Ingram, the state’s chief election official, mentioned in a court docket listening to final month in one other lawsuit that drive-thru voting is “a inventive strategy that’s in all probability okay legally,” based on court docket transcripts.

After the drive-thru voting lawsuit was filed the night time of Oct. 12, an appeals court docket in Houston dismissed the case inside a day, noting the lawsuit was filed too late on the eve of early voting. The state Republican Celebration shortly moved to the Texas Supreme Courtroom, and a litigious Houston conservative and the Harris County Republican Celebration filed a sister swimsuit.

Quickly after, Republican Texas Legal professional Normal Ken Paxton despatched a letter to native election officers advising them that almost all voters can’t legally vote at drive-thru places — echoing arguments from the celebration lawsuits. And as Harris County officers waited for a ruling, they grew involved over the destiny of the tens of 1000’s of votes forged on the drive-thru places. They sought assurances from Gov. Greg Abbott and his appointed secretary of state that no ballots can be thrown out and had been answered with silence.

Hollins mentioned the court docket’s ruling Thursday clarified that Texas election regulation permits for drive-thru voting, and that makes an attempt to halt the voting various within the pandemic had been political.

“It’s unprecedented to have such clear partisan politics try and undercut the voting operations of a single county — a county that has supplied its voters with extra voting entry than ever earlier than,” he mentioned in a press release.

In his dissent, Devine mentioned that the county had side-stepped the Legislature’s slim allowance of curbside voting, and he mentioned the court docket’s rejection of the lawsuit means “1000’s of ballots proceed to be forged by what is probably going an unauthorized voting process.” Republican Celebration of Texas Chairman Allen West mentioned the county’s drive-thru voting was an unlawful transfer to increase curbside voting.

The problem to halt drive-thru and prohibit curbside voting was one among many lawsuits filed in federal and state courts by Texas Republican leaders and activists aimed toward limiting voting choices within the state’s most populous, and largely Democratic, county. GOP officers and activists have to date been profitable on the Texas Supreme Courtroom by halting the county’s plan to ship mail-in poll functions to all registered voters and holding Texas’ strict eligibility necessities through the pandemic on who can forged a poll by mail. However they misplaced in attempting to restrict the early voting interval to 2 weeks after the governor added six extra days because of the pandemic.

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a monetary supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan information group that’s funded partly by donations from members, foundations and company sponsors. Monetary supporters play no position within the Tribune’s journalism. Discover a full listing of them right here.

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