Hopefully, this will be the end of this particular nonsense.
A federal judge Monday rejected a request by a conservative activist and three Republican candidates to toss out nearly 127,000 votes cast at drive-thru polling sites in Texas’ most populous, and largely Democratic, county.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, follows two earlier decisions by the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court rejecting similar efforts by Republicans challenging the validity of drive-thru voting in Harris County. Although Hanen’s ruling is still expected to be appealed quickly, it appears to clear the way for counting the early voting drive-thru ballots on Election Day.
In his ruling from the bench, Hanen said he rejected the case on narrow grounds because the plaintiffs did not show they would be harmed if the drive-thru ballots are counted. He noted, however, that the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals could think differently if the cases reaches them.
If he had ruled on the larger issues in the case, Hanen said he would have rejected the request to toss out votes already cast. But Hanen said he would have shut down Harris County’s drive-thru polling places for Election Day, because the tents being used for the sites don’t qualify as “buildings” under state election law.
“If I were voting tomorrow … I would not vote in a drive-thru just out of my concern as to whether that’s illegal or not,” he said. “I am going to order the county to maintain all the drive-thru voting records … just in case the 5th Circuit disagrees.”
Ten percent of Harris County’s in-person early voters cast their ballots at the county’s 10 drive-thru locations. Dismissing the votes would have been a monumental disenfranchisement of voters in a presidential election besieged with fights over voter suppression and fraud.
The judge ruled from the bench after a hearing with plaintiffs, the county and numerous Texas and national voting rights and political groups joining Harris County to argue that the drive-thru program was legal under Texas election law.
See here, here, and here for the background. This is obviously a great relief, because as ridiculous as this lawsuit was, the cost of an adverse ruling was sky-high. There will be an appeal, but it looks like that will be to stop drive-through voting on Election Day, not to continue the pursuit of throwing these votes out. I think.
On that note: You saw Judge Hanen’s words about voting at a drive-through location today. Drive-through locations will be open today, and if you have the need to use one, then use it. I believe there’s form you can use to attest to your need to vote curbside, which is legally different than drive-through and which is expressly allowed under Texas law (the whole dispute here ultimately boils down to the allegation that drive-through voting is an illegal expansion of curbside voting). Otherwise, I agree with the lawyers who say just park and go inside to vote. Don’t take the chance that this could come up again after the election.
Statements from the ACLU and the Texas Civil Rights Project are beneath the fold, and a statement from the Texas Democratic Party is here. This Twitter thread by Raffi Melkonian is a terrific blow-by-blow account of the hearing and ruling, with some explanations thrown in for the non-lawyers. The Chron, Houston Public Media, the Press, Mother Jones, Politico, and Daily Kos have more.
UPDATE: And so the appeal is happening in the night. Here’s another Twitter thread to keep track. I hope like hell I don’t have to rewrite this whole damn post in the morning.
UPDATE: As of 9 PM, no actual filing yet.
UPDATE: OK, the petition has been filed. They are just asking for drive-through voting to be halted for Election Day. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: Hopefully, this is the final final update:
Just now: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied motion by Republican plaintiffs to halt drive-thru voting in Harris County (#Houston) on Election Day. County clerk has shut down 9 of 10 sites anyway
— Zach Despart (@zachdespart) 11:30 PM – 02 November 2020
You can see the denial in its glory here. The remaining drive-through location will be at the Toyota Center, which no one can deny is a building; the reason that Judge Hanen would have halted drive-through voting on Election Day is because the law is actually different for Election Day than it is for early voting, specifying “buildings” instead of “structures”. At this point, there really isn’t anything left to litigate. Happy voting to whoever will be doing so today.
Mimi Marziani, President of the Texas Civil Rights Project and co-chair of the Texas Right to Vote Network releases the following statement on the federal court’s decision to dismiss the petition seeking to throw out over 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru voting sites in Harris County, ruling that the plaintiffs in the case lack standing to sue. The decision dismisses the case in its entirety.
“This last-minute petition was seeking to do something unthinkable–cancelling over 127,000 votes cast in good faith by voters who did everything by the book. This extreme argument is well outside the bounds of any legal precedent and, in fact, prohibited by federal voter protection laws. Because it was utterly deficient, the plaintiffs were never going to win on legal grounds, but in fact this was never about winning in the court of law. It was about manufacturing chaos and fear, in an antidemocratic attempt to keep voters from turning out.
Texas Voters have too much grit to be intimidated, which is why over 9.7M have already turned out before Election Day. The fabric of our democracy is strong, and together we are rejecting those who seek to undermine our country’s core values. I am confident that Texans will continue showing up to the polls and making their voices heard.”
Voters can find their polling location at www.votetexas.gov or call the nonpartisan election protection coalition at 866-OUR-VOTE for any questions on casting their ballot.
A federal court has blocked efforts to invalidate nearly 127,000 early votes cast via drive-thru voting in Harris County, Texas, the state’s largest county and the third largest county in the country.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and ACLU national moved to intervene in the case last night and had the following reaction to U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen’s bench decision today:
“This is what democracy looks like,” said Andre Segura, legal director of the ACLU of Texas. “This is the third attempt by these individuals to throw out votes legally cast, and once again they’ve been denied. Our justice system did its duty today to ensure voting rights are protected and our democracy remains intact.”
“This ruling is a huge victory for Texas voters,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “The court was right to reject this outrageous attempt to undermine a true and accurate vote count and improperly influence the outcome of the election.”
“Today’s decision was absolutely necessary to reestablish some confidence in the preservation of our voting rights. This is a win for Texas voters and a win for democracy!” said Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. “Every Harris County voter who cast their ballot at a drive-thru polling site can rest assured that their votes are valid and will be counted. Today, the court protected our country’s commitment to ‘one person, one vote.’ We are encouraged by the incredible early voter turnout in Texas, and today’s decision ensures that more than 120,000 Harris County voters will be included in that number.”
The ACLU intervened on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Texas and several individuals who voted using the drive-thru option.
Case details: https://www.aclu.org/cases/hotze-v-hollins