Harris County is continuing to offer drive-thru voting at 10 locations during early voting, despite a threat from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
“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,” Paxton wrote in an opinion issued on Friday. “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.”
Paxton argues Harris County’s operation is an illegal expansion of curbside voting because it is available to everyone.
“The code makes no provision for polling places located outdoors, in parking lots, or in parking structures,” he wrote. “More specifically, the 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.”
Not so fast, says Harris County, which contends its tented drive-thru polling locations are not the same as curbside voting.
“The basic requirement for polling places is that it’s in a building,” Assistant County Attorney Doug Ray told the Houston Chronicle. “We’re interpreting that as long as we have a permanent or temporary structure,” it’s OK.
Texas Election Code restricts curbside voting to voters who are physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring their health. It’s a difficult rule to enforce because election officials are not authorized to query someone about their physical condition, a point Harris County cites as further proof it’s operation is legal.
The question of whether Harris County is operating within the law will be decided by the Texas Supreme Court. The Republican Party last week sued to try to stop the practice and render all votes already cast via drive-thru voting as invalid. They were unsuccessful in the lower courts, leaving the state’s highest bench as the final arbiter.