US Politics

Federal judge rejects Republican bid to throw out 127,000 votes in Democratic-leaning Texas county

A protester holds up a sign across the street from the federal courthouse in Houston, Texas, Monday, 2 November, 2020. Source: AAP

A federal judge in Texas has rejected a Republican effort to disqualify drive-through voting in Houston, allowing some 127,000 votes in the Democratic-leaning area to stand.

A federal judge in Texas on Monday denied an attempt by Republicans to throw out about 127,000 votes already cast in the US presidential election at drive-through voting sites in Houston, a Democratic-leaning area.

The plaintiffs had accused Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, a Democrat, of acting illegally when he allowed drive-through voting as an alternative during the coronavirus pandemic.

US District Judge Andrew Hanen said the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case.

Jared Woodfill, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told reporters they will appeal to the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. They will also appeal a similar loss in state court on Sunday to the US Supreme Court, Mr Woodfill said.

Mr Hollins told reporters that drive-through voting sites in Harris County, which includes Houston, would be open on Election Day. “We are proud to be preserving democracy at a time when democracy itself is being attacked,” he said.

Harris County, home to about 4.7 million people, is the third-most populous county in the United States. It currently has 10 drive-through polling sites available to all voters among 800 total voting places.

“I find that when you balance the harms you’ve got to weigh in favor of counting the votes,” the judge said.

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Texas, the second-largest US state, is traditionally a Republican stronghold but polls show a tight race this year between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden with more than 9 million ballots already cast, eclipsing the state’s total turnout in the 2016 presidential election.

The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday rejected a nearly identical bid by the same plaintiffs, who include conservative activist Steve Hotze and judicial candidate Sharon Hemphill, to halt drive-through voting in Harris County. The same court also previously denied similar challenges brought by the Texas Republican Party and the Harris County Republican Party.

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Hundreds of legal challenges have been brought in the months leading up to Tuesday’s Election Day over how Americans can cast their ballots. Democrats have generally tried to ease access to mail-in and other alternatives to in-person voting, while Trump has repeatedly made unfounded attacks on mail-in voting, claiming it leads to fraud.

In Nevada, a judge on Monday dealt another setback to Republicans who had filed a lawsuit claiming ballot-counting measures in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, were plagued by problems. The ruling found the plaintiffs lacked standing and had failed to present evidence that the procedures had led to counting of fraudulent votes.

'Make or break Texas'

In Houston, Sarah and Dan Jones were among protesters outside the federal courthouse on Monday morning, and they brought their four children, ages 10 to six months.

They voted at a drive-through site a few weeks ago and found out on Saturday their ballots were being challenged, they said.

“I’ve never felt so important in my life,” said Sarah Jones, 32. “Harris County can make or break Texas.”

Both voted for Mr Biden. Dan Jones, 38, said he also voted for Mr Hemphill, one of the plaintiffs.

“I voted for her, and she’s trying to get my ballot thrown out,” he said.

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