Election

Appeals court declines to ban drive-thru voting in Houston

Victoria Houptman-Bryan joins demonstrators as they stand across the street from the federal courthouse in Houston, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, before a hearing in federal court involving drive-thru ballots cast in Harris County. The lawsuit was brought by conservative Texas activists, who have railed against expanded voting access in Harris County, in an effort to invalidate nearly 127,000 votes in Houston because the ballots were cast at drive-thru polling centers established during the pandemic. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A panel of federal appeals court judges has rejected an eleventh hour Republican effort to bar Election Day drive-thru voting in Houston.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans denied the request in a one-sentence ruling issued late Monday. The court hadn’t been asked to invalidate votes already cast at drive-thru sites in the Houston area.

The request stemmed from a lawsuit brought by conservative Texas activists, who 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-most populous and a crucial battleground in Texas, where President Donald Trump and Republicans are bracing for the closest election in America’s largest red state in decades on Tuesday.

Harris County Democratic Party spokeswoman Angelica Luna-Kaufman said the appeals court decision was expected following a ruling earlier Monday by a federal judge who rejected a Republican effort to invalidate nearly 127,000 votes in Houston because the ballots were cast at drive-thru polling centers established during the pandemic.

“We are not surprised that this happened … we believe the law is on the side of the voters,” Luna Kaufman said. “Hopefully it’s all over now.”

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Attorney Jared Woodfill, a former Harris County GOP Chairman representing those opposed to drive-thru voting centers, noted that county Clerk Chris Hollins has shut down all but one of the county’s 10 drive-thru locations for Election Day.

“We have stopped the illegal voting on Election Day because Mr. Hollins has shut down drive-thru voting in all locations but one,” Woodfill said. ”Sometimes you don’t get the legal ruling that you want but you get the result that you’re seeking.”

Woodfill said he expects to appeal the three-judge’s ruling to the full court.

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.

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