Elections 2020JudicialLocal NewsHarris County’s Universal Drive-Thru Voting Challenged by GOP Lawsuit

The Republican Party of Texas seeks to stop Harris County’s expansion of curbside, or “drive-thru,” voting to all registered voters, noting that Election Code limits the practice.
October 13, 2020
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The Republican Party of Texas (RPT) has filed a lawsuit against Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins to stop an expansion of curbside voting.

According to Texas Election Code, only voters who are physically unable to enter a polling place without assistance or likelihood of injury to health are eligible to utilize curbside voting. 

Hollins, however, has been telling all voters that they may use the curbside balloting process.

Curbside or “drive-thru” voting is not the same process as dropping off a mail-in ballot, but instead refers to a registered voter driving or being driven to a polling site and being permitted to vote from a car.

Election code clarified by the Texas Secretary of State notes that the process requires an election officer to determine the voter’s qualification, and then deliver a ballot or voting machine at the entrance or curb of the polling site. The law states that poll watchers and inspectors must be permitted to observe.

The Texan Mug

Current drive-thru voting locations in Harris County

The Harris Votes website lists 10 early voting sites that offer drive-thru services. Eight are located in the central and southwestern portion of the county, two in the northern portion of the county, and none in the more Republican-leaning northwestern portion. The website does not appear to offer any information regarding restrictions on who may utilize curbside or drive-thru voting.

After filing suit in the Texas 14th Court of Appeals, the RPT released a statement accusing Hollins of continuing to rewrite Texas Election Law.

“Chris Hollins is telling all Harris County residents that they are eligible for curbside voting when he knows that is not the case,” the RPT said in a statement. “Any voter that does not qualify to vote curbside under narrow statutory language would be voting illegally if allowed to vote drive through.”

Appointed to serve as interim clerk after the sudden resignation of Diane Trautman earlier this year, Hollins has cited COVID-19 concerns as justification to implement a variety of new voting procedures not mentioned in Texas Election Code. 

After courts ruled that local officials could not send mail-in ballots to all voters, Hollins had planned to send only mail-in ballot applications to all voters, but the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the plan exceeded the clerk’s authority.

Hollins had also planned an unprecedented expansion of mail-in ballot drop off locations, but Governor Greg Abbott clarified last month that the expansion was not warranted under his disaster declaration orders, and on Monday the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Hollins did not have the authority to create new procedures or practices not permitted under the state’s laws.

Expansion of curbside or drive-thru voting is also one of several new elections practices identified for support by private grants given to Dallas, Harris, Hays, and Hopkins counties through the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) and funded by Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan. 

Those grants, totaling more than $25 million, are the subject of a separate lawsuit filed last week in federal court that argues the funds create an illegal public-private partnership for federal election administrations. The federal lawsuit also notes that the grants heavily target Democrat counties and create an unfair advantage for left-leaning candidates.

The RPT is not a party to the lawsuit filed against the CTCL grants but says that the Harris County clerk is a “Democrat partisan” who is using political maneuvers to undermine electoral integrity.  

 

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.