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Drive-thru ballots will count, says judge

Drive-thru ballots will count, says judge
An election worker processes mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day in Houston, Texas, U.S., November 2, 2020. (Reuters)

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HOUSTON – A federal judge in Texas on Monday denied an attempt by Republicans to throw out about 127 000 votes already cast in the U.S. 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.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen said the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case. “I find that when you balance the harms you’ve got to weigh in favour of counting the votes,” he added.

The judge also faulted the plaintiffs for waiting until October 28 to file their case in his court even though drive-through voting was used without challenge in July primary runoffs.

“Didn’t we test this in the primaries this summer?” Hanen said during a three-hour hearing, adding: “Why am I just getting this case?”

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

Hollins told reporters that drive-through voting sites in Harris County, which includes Houston, would be open on Election Day as scheduled. “This is a huge win for democracy, especially at a time when it appears that democracy itself is on the ballot,” Hollins 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.

Texas, the second-largest U.S. 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. (Reuters)