9 of 10 Harris Co. drive-thru polls closed Election Day

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Thursday, December 10, 2020
Why Toyota Center is only drive-thru voting site
Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins says he's not taking any chances, so he's narrowed down drive-thru voting sites to just one place: the home of the Rockets.

HOUSTON, Texas -- The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the motion by Republicans to halt drive-thru voting in Harris County on Election Day, according to ABC News. This motion was filed after U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen ruled on Monday, Nov. 2 that the 127,000 drive-thru ballots already cast could not be invalidated.

The appeals court's ruling came just about an hour after Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins announced on Twitter Monday night that he will be closing 9 out of 10 drive-thru voting locations as a precaution on Election Day. The only drive-thru voting location open will be at Toyota Center.

"This evening, Judge Hanen issued his order upholding drive-thru voting during the Early Voting period. He also stated his view that the tents that house most of the drive-thru voting centers would not qualify as "buildings," which are required for Election Day polling places," Hollins tweeted. "My job is to protect the right to vote for all Harris County voters, and that includes those who are going to vote on Election Day. I cannot in good faith encourage voters to cast their votes in tents if that puts their votes at risk. The Toyota Center DTV site fits the Judge's definition of a "building": it is "a structure with walls and a roof" and "a permanent structure." It is thus unquestionably a suitable location for Election Day voting."

Drive-thru voters are reminded to enter the Toyota Tundra Garage at the intersection of Leeland and Crawford Street to access this polling location.

Each polling location and the wait times to vote are available on the county clerk's website.

You can also view a sample ballot for Harris County.

On Monday, Nov. 2, Hanen said a petition by Texas Republican activist Dr. Steven Hotze and three candidates to toss out the 127,000 votes had "no standing."

Reaction to the ruling

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said while this is a win for democracy, he firmly offered that this should have never gotten to this point:

"The ruling to let the nearly 127,000 drive-thru votes stand was the correct decision but it doesn't change a simple fact: This should have never been an issue in the first place. Texans who lawfully voted at drive through locations should have never had to fear that their votes wouldn't be counted and their voices wouldn't be heard. This lawsuit was shameful and it should have never seen the light of day. Once again, Texas Republicans sought to threaten Texans' right to vote and they lost, but this election is not over. We must send them a message and vote them out. The future of our state is entirely in our hands now. The only thing that matters now is voting. Texas Democrats, we must create the wave necessary to win back our state and our country. If we vote, we will win this election. Get your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and everybody you know to make a plan to vote tomorrow at MyTexasVotes.com. This is the most important election of our lifetime. We are on the edge of history. Let's get it done."

WATCH: Harris Co. Judge on 127K votes counting: 'Law is on our side'

"Those seeking to suppress the votes and voices of the citizens have no place in our democracy." Judge Lina Hidalgo reacts to the court ruling on 127,000 drive-thru votes counting for the 2020 election.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, whose commissioners court gave the greenlight to Hollins, said the ruling backs up the purpose for drive-thru voting:

"Safe, secure, and fair elections are the backbone of our democracy. Today's decision validates what we have been saying all along: Drive thru voting is safe, secure, legal, and a common sense way for voters to cast their ballots during a pandemic. It is beyond comprehension that anyone would seek to invalidate 127,000 votes legally cast by voters. While we fully expect more appeals and litigation from those seeking to suppress the voices of our citizens, we will continue our fight to zealously protect the sanctity of each and every ballot cast here in Harris County. My message to the residents of Harris County is this: Go vote. Make your voice heard. Do not let those seeking to confuse or undermine confidence in our democratic process distract you. For the first time during a Presidential election, you can choose any of 806 polling locations to cast your ballot tomorrow. Visit HarrisVotes.com for the latest information on where to vote, wait times, and any other information you need for election day."

The dismissal came a day after the same group of Republicans saw their bid struck down by the Texas Supreme Court.

Jared Woodfill, the attorney representing the group of Republicans, filed the appeal, which was ultimately denied, to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday night, seeking to reinstate the case and close drive-thru voting.

In a news conference following Monday's ruling, Hollins questioned the motive of those bringing the suit.

"Their motive is not to win. Their motive is to delay. Their motive is to confuse. Their motive is to ultimately reduce the odds that people are going to exercise their constitutional right to vote," Hollins said.

Woodfill told ABC13, "This is anything but a partisan effort. This is an effort to maintain the integrity of the voting system."

And Hotze, who brought this suit and many others this election season, said he was simply trying to maintain the integrity of the election.

WATCH: What's next after federal judge allows drive-thru votes?

One thing that is certain after a judge dismissed a GOP-led effort to stop drive-thru voting: there will be more courtroom battles to come. In the video, ABC13's Ted Oberg looks at what is next for drive-thru voting in Harris County.

Hotze's group claimed that state law didn't allow for drive-thru voting, making the method illegal. State representatives who filed the petition to have the votes thrown out say drive-thru voting is an expansion of curbside voting, which, under Texas state law, is only available for people with disabilities.

In court, Woodfill contended that the decision to greenlight drive-thru voting should have been up to the GOP-led Texas Legislature and not Hollins.

"If the legislature chose to do that, they could have, but they didn't," Woodfill argued. "Not an individual clerk that makes up his own mind."

With the threat of invalidating votes already cast, representatives for the county said the injury to voters would be irreparable.

"Voters didn't do anything wrong. They only relied on the instructions of county officials," the county said in court.

Initially, 10 drive-thru voting centers were set up for this election to make voting easier for people worried about walking into a polling place, risking exposure to COVID-19.

READ: What you need to know about drive-thru voting in Harris County

People turned out. About 10% of the ballots cast during early voting happened at these drive-thrus.

The Harris County Clerk's Office had argued drive-thru locations are separate polling places, different from attached curbside spots, and should be available for all voters.

WATCH: Harris Co. clerk on drive-thru voting ruling: 'We will fight to the end'

"We will have drive-thru voting open tomorrow [on Election Day.] We will count those votes." Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins assures voters ahead of Election Day that drive-thru votes already cast will count, as per the court ruling on Monday, and drive-thru votes cast on Election Day will also count.

An hour before Monday's hearing on drive-thru voting, Texas Democrats showed up outside the federal courthouse in downtown Houston to protest. They were furious about the possibility of votes not counting.

ABC13's Courtney Fischer was outside the courthouse and came across the youngest protester, Soraya, who is 2 years old.

"It's important to start them young when it comes to understanding what's right," Soraya's mom told Courtney.

Curbside voting will remain in place. Voters who are "physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or the likelihood of injuring the voter's health" may ask the presiding precinct election official to allow them to vote outside the polling location, according to a release from the county clerk's office.

Drive-thru voting locations in Harris Co. see greater numbers than in-person voting

Harris County officials continue allowing voters to do so from inside their vehicles in effort to make sure everyone feels safe while casting their ballot.