June 10, 2023

Texas Supreme Court allows drive-thru voting to continue in Harris County

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a pilot program for drive-thru voting can continue in Harris County (Houston). The state and county Republican parties and a Houston conservative activist sought to halt the voter option of drive-thru voting in ten locations throughout the county. The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court denied the request.

It should be noted that the state Supreme Court did not, however, rule on the legality of drive-thru voting, only that it may continue. Local Democrats hoped that a ruling on the program’s legality would also be handed down but that didn’t happen. Only one justice dissented with the decision, stating that Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins had exceeded his authority in creating the drive-thru option. He said, “thousands of ballots continue to be cast through what is likely an unauthorized voting procedure.” The actions of the county clerk have been the subject of several lawsuits this election cycle. He was appointed in June to the position and is a Democrat activist. He was stopped by the Texas Supreme Court from mailing out applications for mail-in ballots to every registered voter in the county, something that has never been done before. Texas is one of the few states that only allows mail-in voting if the voter meets specific requirements. There is no universal mail-in voting in Texas.

The drive-thru voting sites are tented and manned by poll workers. The voter is checked in by the poll worker, including presenting his or her identification and then handed an electronic voting machine to cast a ballot while still in their car. This option is to allow older voters and disabled voters an easier voting option. Any voter can take advantage of it, though, and so far more than 70,000 ballots have been cast through this option during the first two weeks of early voting. There have been complaints that the sites are mostly concentrated in heavily Democrat areas of the county and some suburbs and more Republican areas are being left out. This is a little ironic considering that Democrats had a hissy fit when the governor declared that each county can have only one drop-off location for mail-in ballots. The argument from Democrats is that some voters have to drive too far of a distance to use the drop-off box. Well, the same can be said of some areas of the county about drive-thru voting yet not a peep is heard from Democrats about that.

On Thursday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the Harris County CEO and not a ‘real’ judge, sent a letter to Governor Abbott asking him to guarantee the validity of votes cast via drive-thru voting locations. She is pleased with the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling and calls voters “courageous”, which is an odd adjective if you ask me. This is America where we hold free elections on a regular basis. She makes it sound as though Harris County is in her native country, Colombia, for heaven’s sake. The 30-year-old county executive often speaks in dramatic terms.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, in a tweet, called the court’s decision “a victory for democracy, for the thousands of courageous voters who have participated, even in the face of suppression attempts, and it’s a fair interpretation of the law.”

Earlier Thursday, Hidalgo asked Abbott in a letter to confirm that drive-thru voting is legal, amid worries the high court would block the voting method, throwing the legality of about 73,000 ballots already collected into question.

Hidalgo said the governor’s input was needed because Harris County officials unsuccessfully had sought an answer from Secretary of State Ruth Hughs earlier.

Both Hidalgo and Hollins are concerned that the drive-thru ballots will be invalidated if the Texas Supreme Court rules drive-thru voting illegal. Harris County is the only county in Texas that has this voting option. As I said, it is a pilot program. The state’s Republican Party claims it is against Texas election laws and therefore illegal. The party claims that Hollins acted outside of his authority when he established the program. Ironically, Hollins calls Republican objections “partisan politics” and a form of voter suppression.

Hollins praised the court’s decision Thursday, adding that voters had raved about their drive-thru voting experiences.

“It is unprecedented to have such clear partisan politics attempt to undercut the voting operations of a single county, a county that has provided its voting electorate with more voting access than ever before,” he said in a statement.

To hear Democrats in Texas talk, the evil Republicans are suppressing votes. The proof is in the numbers, though, and Texas has an all-time high number of votes cast already and there is still over a week to go in early voting. Everyone expects Election Day will bring out a large turn-out, too. Voters in both parties are highly motivated and voting in this election. The governor extended early voting by a week, there are curbside voting options besides the drive-thru locations, and voters may vote in any polling location during early voting in Harris County, not just their normal polling location. And, if requirements are met, a voter can use a mail-in ballot. Every time I hear a Democrat complain about voter suppression in Texas, I just laugh at them. By Hollins doing the same against Republicans, he is the one playing partisan politics. He, like Hidalgo, is young and eager to fundamentally change the county, as activist Democrats say. So far, more than 900,000 votes have been cast in Harris County. That is more than the entire 2010 and 2014 elections.

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