Harris County voters may continue using drive-thru voting, Texas Supreme Court rules

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Voters in the state's most populous county can continue casting their ballots for the fall election at 10 drive-thru polling places after the Texas Supreme Court Thursday rejected a last-minute challenge by the Texas and Harris County Republican parties, one of many lawsuits in an election season ripe with litigation over voting access.

The court rejected the challenge without an order or opinion, though Justice John Devine dissented from the decision.

In an effort to expand access to voting during the pandemic, Harris County announced in June that it would set up 10 drive-thru polling locations available to all voters, the county clerk's office explained in its filing to the Supreme Court. The county first tested the program with 200 voters in the July primary runoff election. At the locations, lines of cars are guided into either covered tents or a parking garage where poll workers check voters' photo identification and registration status. Voters are handed a portable voting machine in their car to cast they ballot, the clerk's filing said.

READ ALSO: Harris Co. clerk wants Texas Secretary of State to guarantee drive-thru votes will count

By Wednesday, more than 73,000 people in Harris County had voted at drive-thru polling places, according to the clerk's early voting totals.

Though the program was publicized for months before the ongoing election, it was not until hours before early voting started last week that the Texas Republican Party and a voter challenged the move in a state appeals court, arguing that drive-thru votes would be illegal. They claimed drive-thru voting is an expansion of curbside voting, and therefore should only be available for disabled voters.

Curbside voting, a long-available option under Texas election law, requires workers at every polling place to deliver onsite curbside ballots to voters who are "physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter's health." Posted signs at polling sites notify voters to ring a bell, call a number or honk to request curbside assistance.

The lawsuit also asked the court to further restrict curbside voting by requiring that voters first fill out applications citing a disability. Such applications are required for mail-in ballots, but voting rights advocates and the Harris County Clerk said they have never been a part of curbside voting.

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