The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected lawsuits filed in part by the Republican Party chapters for Texas and Harris County that sought to stop the county’s practice of drive-through voting, which has proved popular during the first two weeks of early voting.
The decision by the state’s highest court allows the practice to continue in Texas’ most populous county, which is implementing 10 drive-through voting locations for early voting and Election Day on Nov. 3. Among the drive-through locations is Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church at 2025 W. 11th St. in Timbergrove Manor.
Earlier Thursday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo publicized a letter she wrote to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, asking him to assure that drive-through votes in the county will be counted amid the last-minute legal challenges to the practice.
“In absence of such an assurance, we can only conclude that state officials, in concert with the Texas Republican Party, are laying the groundwork to intentionally disenfranchise the tens of thousands of Harris County voters who have utilized drive-thru voting by invalidating their votes,” Hidalgo wrote. “If this were to come to pass, it would be an outrageous act of voter suppression and an overt attack on the basic constitutional rights of our citizens.”
In her letter, Hidalgo said the county implemented drive-through voting with the approval and under the guidance of Secretary of State Ruth Hughs, whose responsibilities include advising and assisting elections officials. But since Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to the state’s elections administrators last Friday questioning the legality of drive-through voting, Hidalgo said Hughs has not responded to county officials’ repeated requests for reassurance about the practice.
Hughs’ office did not immediately respond to emailed questions about drive-through voting in Harris County.
“The Texas Secretary of State months ago told us that was OK,” Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said. “We wouldn’t have done it without the Secretary of State’s guidance at the time.”
The Texas GOP and a voter previously sued Hollins Oct. 12, the day before the start of early voting, in an attempt to block curbside and drive-through voting. A state appellate court rejected the lawsuit a day later, citing a lack of standing and because the election already was underway.
According to early voting totals released by the county clerk’s office, a total of 5,903 voters cast drive-through ballots at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church between the start of early voting Oct. 13 and Wednesday, while 4,894 ballots were cast there through traditional in-person voting.
More than 73,000 voters have utilized drive-through voting across the county, which is the state’s only county to implement drive-through voting. The county has seen a total of 874,295 ballots cast during early voting, which ends Oct. 30.
In his Oct. 16 letter to elections officials, Paxton wrote, “Curbside voting is not, as some have asserted contrary to Texas law, an option for
any and all voters who simply wish to vote from the comfort of their cars when they are physically able to enter the polling place.” He also wrote, “Fear of COVID-19 does not render a voter physically unable to cast a ballot inside a polling place without assistance.”
As of Thursday, according to local health officials, there have been 156,035 cases of COVID-19 among Houston and Harris County residents. The contagious disease has caused at least 2,150 deaths among those residents, and 130,663 patients in the county have recovered.
“Let me be perfectly clear: Drive-thru voting is a legal, safe and secure way to vote,” Hidalgo wrote in her letter. “It is a common sense way for citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote, particularly during a pandemic. The Texas Election Code allows it, and Secretary of State Ruth Hughs approved it.”