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GOP Legal Challenge In Harris County, Texas, Seeks To Invalidate 127,000 Votes

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Texans have been voting early in numbers now that have surpassed the total votes cast four years ago. But in the Houston area, 127,000 of those votes may not get counted. That's because three Republican candidates and an activist are asking the courts to invalidate them just days before Election Day and force Harris County to shutter its drive-through voting centers. For more on this, we're joined now by Chris Hollins. He is the Harris County clerk, who is a Democrat. Good morning to you.

CHRIS HOLLINS: Hi. Good morning, Lulu. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's good to have you. This petition argues that drive-through voting is an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which state law reserves for voters who submit a sworn application saying that they have an illness or disability. Your response to this petition?

HOLLINS: The lawsuit is totally baseless, and it's a disingenuous and gross misunderstanding of what drive-through voting is. Drive-through voting is not, in fact, curbside voting. Curbside voting takes place at all of our early voting locations, which - we had more than 120 of them. Drive-through voting takes place at 10 locations. And it is not for those just with disabilities, although they are welcome. It's for anyone who wants to. The voting takes place inside of a temporary structure, which is authorized by election code. And you simply drive your vehicle into that building, cast your ballot and go on your way. And the lawsuit is essentially saying that voting was too easy and is thus illegal, which is ridiculous.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let me ask you this. Why do you think this last-minute attempt to get these votes invalidated?

HOLLINS: It's a misguided attempt to try and sway the election. And I want to be clear, Lulu, none of us knows how any of these voters voted. And Harris County is an extremely diverse county. And so if 127,000 votes are thrown out, you can guarantee that tens of thousands of Republican votes will be thrown out and tens of thousands of Democratic votes. And so this is simply an un-American attempt to disenfranchise voters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The week before last, the Texas Supreme Court rejected a similar case. And Harris County used drive-through voting in the July primary runoffs. So my question is, what's the timing on this? Are the courts promising to settle it before Tuesday?

HOLLINS: Nothing has been promised, but we will have a hearing on Monday morning in federal court. We expect to win that hearing. If this judge follows any semblance of Texas law or hundreds of years of judicial precedent, then we will win easily, and this should be thrown out. But I think there's concern because the judge is known to be fairly partisan.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, tell me a little bit about this judge.

HOLLINS: His name is Judge Hanen. Frankly, I don't know a ton about him, but he is a Trump appointee. And there are concerns about his ability to be unbiased. But this judge has taken an oath to our Constitution. And we expect him to follow the law.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What happens if, indeed, this is seen through and these votes are invalidated? What do you see taking place next?

HOLLINS: So first of all, this is totally unprecedented. And we would argue that there's no basis in the law for these votes not to be counted, even if drive-through voting were somehow ruled to be an improper way of voting because the ruling should come down on the side of voters who in good faith cast their votes. However, in a totally extreme downside scenario, we would need to encourage those 127,000 Harris County voters to come back out on Tuesday and cast a provisional ballot to make sure that in any circumstance, their vote was counted. We're hoping it doesn't come to that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what should a Harris County voter who's concerned about his or her ballot know right now?

HOLLINS: They should know that we are fighting to protect your right to vote. We will fight tooth and nail. We've also sent out a link on Twitter where individual voters can intervene in the federal lawsuit and tell this judge that they want their votes to be counted.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Chris Hollins, the clerk of Harris County, Texas. Thank you very much.

HOLLINS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 31, 2020 at 10:00 PM MDT
An earlier audio version of this story incorrectly indicated that U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen was appointed by President Trump. In fact, the judge was appointed by President George W. Bush.