A federal judge threw out a Republican effort to invalidate 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru voting locations in Texas

A federal judge threw out a Republican effort to invalidate 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru voting locations in Texas
AP Photo/LM Otero
  • A federal judge in Texas ruled on Monday that 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru locations in Texas are valid.
  • The day before the election, he rejected a lawsuit brought by Texas GOP candidates who sought to invalidate the votes by arguing that the locations, established by county election officials, weren't legitimate.
  • It's a victory for voters and another loss for Republicans in a slew of voting lawsuits ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.
  • The Republicans who brought the lawsuit have appealed the decision.

A federal judge dismissed a case on Monday seeking to invalidate 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru voting locations in Texas.

The decision is a victory for voters in Harris County, which includes Houston and is the most populous county in the state.

With his decision, Judge Andrew Hanen, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, apparently reached the same conclusion as the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, which rejected an appeal by Republicans to hear a case over the same issue.

Several Republican candidates running for office in Texas, as well as Steven Hotze, a right-wing radio host known for playing down the coronavirus pandemic, brought the lawsuit against Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins.

Hollins established 10 drive-thru voting locations to make it easier for people to vote if they were anxious to enter buildings because of the coronavirus pandemic. 10% of all early votes in the county took place at those locations, according to the Texas Tribune.


Hotze and the candidates — Wendell Champion, Steve Toth, and Sharon Hemphill — argued such locations could be established only with the explicit approval of the Texas Legislature and sought to have the 127,000 ballots already cast to be invalidated.

The judge said the group didn't have the standing to sue but ordered for the votes to be set aside anyway

In court on Monday, Hanen ruled the groups did not have the standing to sue and that the ballots were legally cast.

He also admonished the plaintiffs for bringing the case only now, even though early voting had been in progress for two weeks, and Harris County already had drive-thru voting locations during primary elections over the summer.

"I find that when you balance the harms, you've got to weigh in favor of counting the votes," Hanen said.

Hanen said that if the case did have standing, he would have ruled to count the 127,000 votes that had already been cast, but ban the drive-thru locations going forward, according to the Texas Tribune.


"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.

Hollins said the county's drive-thru voting locations would remain open through Election Day.

"My office and those 11,000 election workers are going to continue to be committed to protecting the right to vote for the 2.5 million voters registered here in Harris County," Hollins said in a statement to reporters following the ruling.

A federal judge threw out a Republican effort to invalidate 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru voting locations in Texas
Voters in cars line up at a drive-through mail ballot drop-off site at NRG Stadium on October 7, 2020 in Houston.Go Nakamura/Getty Images

In the lawsuit, Hollins garnered high-profile support: Democratic candidates, the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, and the League of Women Voters of Texas all fought for the ballots to be counted. Hollis also garnered support from the right, including the top GOP election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg and the anti-Trump Republican group the Lincoln Project.

Hanen, in his decision, ordered county officials to maintain a registry of the votes that were cast at drive-thru polling places in case the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals came to a different conclusion.


Lawyers for the Republican candidates who brought the lawsuit appealed the case to the 5th Circuit later Monday. They also plan to appeal their loss in the Texas Supreme Court to the US Supreme Court, according to the Reuters reporters Jan Wolfe and Jennifer Hiller.

Texas has experienced extraordinary early turnout this election, surpassing 2016's total last week with nearly 10 million votes. Though no Democrat has won the presidential race in Texas for decades, it's close this year: FiveThirtyEight projected a vote share of 50.2% votes for President Donald Trump and 48.9% for Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Republicans have launched dozens of lawsuits across the country seeking to limit voting. Several of them have resulted in Supreme Court decisions, and more litigation is expected.

"Today is a victory for Texas voters and the more than 120,000 Texans who followed the rules, made a plan to drive-in vote, and exercised their constitutional right. Make no mistake: this is not a partisan victory," the Biden campaign said in a statement.

This article has been updated.

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