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Texas high court denies GOP effort to reject Houston votes

A car-side voting location is empty at Prairie View A&M University Northwest polling station in Houston .
A car-side voting location is empty at Prairie View A&M University Northwest polling station in Houston on Friday. The location was one of the eight Harris County’s 24-hour locations.
(Associated Press)

The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday denied a Republican-led petition to toss nearly 127,000 ballots cast at drive-through voting places in the Houston area.

The state’s all-Republican high court rejected the request from GOP activists and candidates without explaining its decision. The effort to have the Harris County ballots thrown out is still set to be taken up during an emergency hearing in federal court Monday.

“We’re pleased that the Texas Supreme Court recognized that their arguments that drive-through voting is illegal are flat-out wrong,” said Susan Hays, an attorney for the Harris County Clerk’s Office. “Lawsuits that are filed in the middle of an election to disrupt the election should be promptly denied.”

Conservative Texas activists have railed against expanded voting access in Harris County, where a record 1.4 million early votes have already been cast. The county is the nation’s third largest and a crucial battleground in Texas, where President Trump and Republicans are bracing for the closest election in decades Tuesday.

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U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen is expected to rule on the same issue Monday. Hanen’s decision to hear arguments on the brink of election day drew attention from voting rights activists. The Texas Supreme Court also rejected a nearly identical challenge last month.

President demands a winner be declared election night, which would mean not counting tens of millions of ballots. Democrats say it’s a sign of desperation.

Jared Woodfill, an attorney for the Republicans who brought the state and federal cases, said Sunday that his focus is on the hearing before Hanen.

“We’re hopeful that he’ll stop this illegal form of voting from continuing to occur,” Woodfill said.

Conservative GOP activists have filed a battery of court challenges over moves to expand voting options during the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges have not involved Trump’s campaign.

Trump won Texas by nine points in 2016 but polls have shown Democrat Joe Biden still within reach in America’s biggest red state. Democrats also need to flip only nine seats to reclaim a majority in the Texas House for the first time in 20 years, and have aggressively targeted several races in Harris County.

Harris County has offered 10 drive-through locations where its nearly 5 million residents can cast ballots in their cars instead of going inside polling centers. The accommodation aims to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. Woodfill, a former chairman of the Harris County GOP, argued that Texas election law makes no explicit allowances for drive-through 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-through centers were set up “in Democrat areas of the county.” More than 40% of Harris County residents are Latino, and about 1 in 5 residents are Black.

Counting the drive-through votes, Woodfill argued, would “call into question the integrity and legality of a federal election.”

Election 2020: These states will probably decide if Joe Biden or President Trump wins the race. And their absentee ballot laws could determine when we find out.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected an identical lawsuit last month. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, who runs the county’s elections, had asked Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to affirm that the drive-through locations are legal but received no response.

Texas is one of just five states that did not allow for widespread mail-in voting this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 18,000 people statewide. Abbott instead expanded early voting by one week, and that extra time helped Texas already surpass 2016’s total votes even before Tuesday’s election.

More than 9.7 million people have cast early ballots in Texas, where turnout typically ranks among the lowest in the country. Some elections experts predict that total turnout in Texas could surpass 12 million, and Harris County officials have taken more steps than most to expand voting access.

The county tripled the number of polling places and last week had eight locations that stayed open for 24 hours.


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