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Texas Republicans granted emergency hearing, ask for 127,000 ballots from ‘drive-thru’ polling station to be tossed

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Three Republican candidates and a GOP activist were granted an emergency hearing in Houston this morning over a Republican-led effort to toss out nearly 127,000 ballots in the largest Texas county. U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen is set to hear arguments from the Texan Republicans who are claiming that the ballots violate state law. They want to invalidate all ballots cast at drive-thru polling stations in Harris County, a predominately Democratic voting bloc.

In a last-minute filing to the Supreme Court, conservative Steven Hotze and Harris County Republicans state Rep. Steve Toth, congressional candidate Wendell Champion and judicial candidate Sharon Hemphill sought to have the votes declared illegal. At issue is the argument that the drive-thru program is an expansion of curbside voting. Therefore the Republicans contend that it should only be made available to voters with disabilities under state election law. They also state that it is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, which gives state legislatures the authority to decide how elections are run. The conservatives are not stopping there either… they also want to ban the practice on Election Day.

“Allowing an illegal voting scheme that invites corruption and fraud is tantamount to voter suppression because legal votes will be nullified by illegal votes,” they told Judge Hanen.

Jared Woodfill, a former chairman of the Harris County GOP, argued that Texas election law makes no explicit allowances for drive-thru voting and that only voters who need assistance are eligible to cast a ballot curbside. Woodfill’s lawsuit also noted that all but one of the drive-thru centers were set up “in Democrat areas of the county.” More than 40% of Harris County residents are Latino, and about one in five residents are Black. Counting the drive-thru votes, Woodfill argued, would “call into question the integrity and legality of a federal election.”

On Sunday, the Texas Supreme Court rejected a case from these four plaintiffs over the same issue. The all-Republican court did not issue an explanation as to why it had thrown out the lawsuit.

State election law has previously allowed Texans with medical conditions to vote curbside. This entails a poll worker bringing a ballot to them outside while the voter remains in their vehicle. Ostensibly, due to COVID, Harris County also opened 10 drive-thru locations in October for early voting. Voters are handed a portable machine through their car window to vote, as a safety measure during the coronavirus pandemic. The Republicans do not view the pandemic as a disability.

The Harris County Clerk’s Office website justified the process: “Drive-thru voting allows for voters to safely cast their ballots while “naturally socially distanced” within their vehicles and is as secure as walk-in voting.” By Friday of last week, almost 127,000 of Harris County’s 2.4 million eligible voters had cast a ballot using this option. That’s approximately 9% of the total votes cast to date.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins called on Judge Hanen to reject the lawsuit:

“The Texas Supreme Court has twice declined to interfere,” the brief says. “The fact that the final arbiter of the Texas Election Code found no justification for interfering with drive-through polling places—based on the same legal arguments—in the middle of the election is an unmistakable indication that the public interest is best served by allowing the election to proceed without interference.”

As an alternative to immediately nullifying the drive-through votes, the plaintiffs are asking Hanen to order the county to segregate the drive-through votes so that their legality can be addressed later.

But Hollins is also taking a stand against that more limited request, saying it would cause alarm to voters who already cast their ballots and might prompt many of them to seek to revote. “They would be left to wonder whether their votes would be counted. Confidence in the democratic process would be shaken,” he wrote.

Texas has very tough voting laws in place. They were one of the few states that did not relax criteria for requesting mail-in ballots during the spread of the virus. The state allows voters to cast an absentee ballot if they are over the age of 65, have an illness or disability, will be out of the country for early voting or Election Day, or are in jail but otherwise eligible to vote.

Polls indicate that Trump leads Biden in Texas by 4.4 percentage points. Most Texans believe it is a much larger margin than that. But Republicans in the state are stamping out voting irregularities and fraud wherever they can.

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