Drive-thru voting locations limited to Toyota Center on Election Day for Harris County

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins announced Monday night that the Toyota Center would be the only place for drive-thru voting on Election Day. 

A federal judge has ruled that nearly 127,000 ballots cast by drive-thru voting in Harris County will stand, and the drive-thru voting method can continue on Tuesday. 

"In order to allow for drive-thru voting on Election Day while ensuring that all votes will be counted, the only drive-thru voting center on Election Day will be at Toyota Center," Hollins tweeted.

On the eve of Election Day, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen rejected the Republican-led effort to invalidate the existing votes and drive-thru polls, which they say it isn't recognized in the Texas Election Code, because they had no standing to bring a lawsuit.

Hanen added that people had already voted and that conservative activists had months to bring a challenge sooner. His decision comes after the Texas Supreme Court rejected a nearly identical challenge over the weekend.

But Hanen still expressed doubts about whether Texas law allowed anyone to vote from their car, even in a pandemic.

“If I were voting tomorrow, I would not vote in a drive-thru just out of my concern as to whether that’s legal or not,” Hanen said.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Hanen's decision is validation.

"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," Judge Hidalgo said in a statement. "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."

The opponents were represented by former Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill.

Woodfill filed an motion late Monday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking the court to bar all drive-thru voting on Tuesday. The appeal did not ask the court to overturn votes already cast at drive-thru sites. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request in a one-sentence ruling.

A record 1.4 million early votes have already been cast in Harris County, the nation’s third-largest county. It's a crucial battleground in Texas, where President Donald Trump and Republicans are bracing for the closest election in decades on Tuesday.

Another 20,000 or more voters were expected to use drive-thru polling locations Tuesday, said Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, the county’s top elections official. Several voters who already used the drive-thru centers rushed to join mounting opposition to the lawsuit, including a Houston attorney whose wife was 35 weeks pregnant when she cast her ballot. She gave birth to twins Friday.

“My vote counts,” David Hobbs said. “My wife’s vote counts.”

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.

Harris County offered 10 drive-thru locations as an option for its nearly 5 million residents amid worries of spreading the coronavirus. Woodfill argued that Texas election law makes no explicit allowances for drive-thru voting and framed it is as an unlawful expansion of curbside voting, which is legal in Texas but limited to people who are unable to enter polling places because of their health.

Portions of the hearing were consumed by debate over what exactly qualified as a legal structure for a polling place under Texas law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.