In a brief, unsigned order issued Sunday morning, the Supreme Court of Texas denied an effort by state Republicans to throw out more than 126,000 votes cast via “drive-thru” polling stations in Harris County.
Harris County is the largest county in Texas and has the third-largest population of any county in the United States. In mid-summer, following a successful pilot program of drive-thru polling during the state’s primary run-off election, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins announced that the county would offer drive-thru voting to all registered voters in the county in October as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas state law has long permitted curbside voting for voters who have an illness or disability that prevents them from casting a ballot inside a polling station. However, this would be the first general election in which all registered voters could choose to forgo getting out of their car and walking into a polling station, instead visiting one of ten drive-up locations where they would have their identity verified by a poll worker and then cast a ballot using a mobile electronic voting machine from their vehicle.
A group of Republican candidates for state offices and Republican voters sued to invalidate the ballots cast at these locations, alleging in their petition for mandamus that Hollins illegally expanded curbside voting without legislative approval and failed to follow statutory procedures required for curbside voting. The Republicans requested that the state Supreme Court confiscate the memory cards of the voting machines used at the drive-thru polling stations and reject any ballots cast in that manner. Hollins maintained that drive-thru voting is separate and distinct from curbside voting and not subject to the regulations of curbside voting and that the county’s program was approved by Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughes.
The order by the Texas Supreme Court denied the request by the Republicans for an emergency grant of mandamus to confiscate the ballots, but contained no other comments.
A related case is currently pending before the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas, with arguments scheduled for Monday morning, the day before the end of the general election.