By Bethany Blankley
Texas election officials received a warning letter from Attorney General Ken Paxton's office reminding them that making up their own voting rules “is unlawful and could result in legal liability.”
Meanwhile, a revised request was filed with the Texas Supreme Court this week by plaintiffs asking it to intervene in what they fear could become an historic example of voter fraud in Harris County.
Democratic Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, an interim head of elections appointed by a Democrat-majority commissioners court, announced within months of his appointment in May that the county was creating 10 drive-through voting locations. He argues voting this way will help decrease the spread of the coronavirus and make voting more accessible to registered voters.
This is the first time drive-through voting has been conducted in Texas history, and implemented outside of the legislative process. In 2019, the state legislature rejected a drive-through voting bill similar to the mechanism Hollins has implemented.
The Harris County Republican Party, among others, sued Hollins and asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene. Initially, they asked the court to require the Secretary of State and Hollins to follow existing election law.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R–Houston, argues that nine of the 10 drive-through voting locations Hollins established are in Democratic jurisdictions in Harris County.
“Nothing in the Texas election code allows Mr. Hollins to do this setup,” he said.
In response, Paxton issued a guidance letter to local elections administrators explaining guidelines for curbside voting.
“This letter serves as a notice and reminder that the Election Code provides curbside voting as an option only to those who meet a certain, narrow set of criteria,” the letter states. “Curbside voting is not, as some have asserted contrary to Texas law, an option for any and all voters who simply wish to vote from the comfort of their cars when they are physically able to enter the polling place.
“Fear of COVID-19 does not render a voter physically unable to cast a ballot inside a polling place without assistance,” Paxton added, referring to a ruling issued by the Texas Supreme Court on mail-in ballots. “Accordingly, election officials should not advise voters that such fear qualifies them to cast a curbside ballot.”
Voters may not claim susceptibility to the coronavirus as a “disability” in order to apply for a mail-in ballot, the court ruled.
“Elections must be held in compliance with these Election Code provisions,” Paxton warned. “Encouraging or facilitating election operations that violate these rules is unlawful and could result in legal liability for political subdivisions and their officials.”
This week, plaintiffs asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene on the matter of curbside voting. Texas Election Code restricts curbside voting to three specific categories of voters, and voters who have not complied with the law are still voting curbside, they argue.
Harris County Clerk Hollins filed a brief in response to their complaint, requesting the high court allow it to continue administering curbside voting whereby individuals vote inside their cars. His request, the plaintiffs, argue, is “asking this Court to legislate from the bench,” and to “ignore the statutory prescribed limits on curb-side voting, and conclude that a car is a polling place.”
Hollins has already allowed more than 60,000 votes to be cast at drive-through locations in violation of the law, plaintiffs claim, and has also created an opportunity for “hundreds of thousands of additional illegal ‘drive-thru’ votes to be cast.”
“Through judicial fiat Democrats are trying to accomplish what they were unable to do during the last legislative session,” Jared Woodfill, the Houston-based attorney representing the plaintiffs against Hollins, told The Center Square. “Because the Texas Supreme Court has not acted, over 60,400 illegal votes have been cast as of October 19."