The ruling means more than 98,000 ballots cast at drive-thru polling sites across Harris County will be counted in the Nov. 3 election, according to an Oct. 22 release from the Harris County Clerk's office. It also allows the 10 drive-thru polling sites to remain open through early voting and on Election Day.
The day before early voting began, the Texas Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins' office on Oct. 12 to restrict drive-thru and curbside voting to “only those Harris County registered voters who have submitted sworn applications,” Community Impact Newspaper reported. The lawsuit was quickly dismissed on Oct. 13.
However, soon after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office published a press release Oct. 16 stating the Texas Election Code "makes no provision for 'drive-thru' voting centers at which any voter may cast a ballot from his or her vehicle regardless of physical condition."
At a press conference Oct. 21, Hollins pushed back against Paxton's release by saying that the election code states a polling place can be located in any stationary structure or movable structure as directed by the authority establishing the branch office.
Additionally, according to the Texas Secretary of State's Office website, curbside voting is allowed upon request to an election officer for those who are unable to enter a polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injury, or those with signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
In response to Paxton's opposition, Hollins sent a letter to Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs on Oct. 20 requesting the office respond to mixed messages and assure that drive-thru ballots would be counted.
At the virtual press conference Oct. 21, Hollins said the secretary of state’s office had yet to respond to his letter. Community Impact Newspaper emailed the secretary of state's office Oct. 21 for comment, but a response was not given by press time.
“My request to the secretary of state has been met with silence, and that silence right now is speaking volumes,” he said at the press conference.
Hollins said drive-thru voting is a "safe and convenient manner for voting," and that roughly 10% of all votes cast in Harris County so far have been done at drive-thru sites.
Between Oct. 13-22, 98,806 ballots were cast at the 10 drive-thru polling locations across Harris County, per Oct. 22 unofficial election data. Many of the drive-thru sites, which also serve as regular polling sites, have seen more drive-thru voters than regular voters.
The Oct. 22 ruling came following support from local Democratic leaders and organizations, such as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the Texas Democratic Party. Hidalgo sent a letter to Abbott on Oct. 22 urging him to assure that ballots cast through drive-thru voting will be valid, according to a news release.
In an Oct. 22 tweet, Hidalgo praised the Supreme Court ruling.
"This is a victory for 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," she wrote.