The latest development in legal battles over how Texans vote this year was announced Friday. A Texas appellate court ruled in favor of blocking Governor Abbott’s order limiting drop-off ballot boxes to one per county. As expected, the Texas Attorney General’s office immediately made its own announcement that the ruling will be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
This election cycle has seen lawsuits and appeals in numbers not normally seen in Texas. The narrative from Democrats is that Republicans are trying to suppress the vote of Texans. The complaint about the governor’s order of one drop-off ballot box per county is that in a county as large as Harris County, the most populous county in Texas and the third-most populous county in the United States with almost five million residents, some voters may have too far of a drive to use that voting option. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins opened up a dozen drop-off ballot box sites and closed eleven of them when the governor delivered his order.
There was a similar case at the federal level already. A court left Governor Abbott’s order in place and temporarily put on hold a district court ruling that also sought to strike the drop-off site limitation. Adding to the neverending drama that is the 2020 election in Texas, State District Judge Tim Sulak ruled that the governor’s order would “needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections” and undermine the constitutionally protected rights of residents to vote, “as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things.” The continuing last-minute confusion from the courts is enough to make any voter feel frustrated.
An interesting twist to the Friday ruling is that it exposes the unjustified claim that there is an additional burden on voters to head off to the drop-off ballot location at NRG Stadium, where it is located. I say that because Harris County Clerk Hollins said he will not re-open the other 11 sites in Harris County until there is more “finality” in the decision. If there truly was a problem with the governor’s order in Harris County and voters were being inconvenienced in large numbers, wouldn’t he have immediately moved to re-open the sites? Of course, he would. The truth is that any mailbox is a mail-in ballot box, as has been pointed out by officials all along. There have not been problems reported in Harris County with the USPS in delivering ballots to voters or returning the ballots to the county clerk’s office. The clerk’s office has even set up a tracking system where any voter can track his or her ballot throughout the process.
The ruling from the Third Court of Appeals, with a three-judge panel in Austin, states that “there was “no reversible error” in a lower court’s ruling that put a hold on Abbott’s Oct. 1 order.” The panel’s make-up was two Democrats and one Republican judge. Both of the Democrats were voted into office in the 2018 sweep by Democrats. Elections have consequences. For many of us, the judiciary is a focus when we vote for political candidates. It isn’t only important in presidential elections, it is also important to remember the consequences of elections at the local and state levels. Voters need to be reminded to vote all the way down the ballot. It matters.
The appellate panel consisted of Republican Justice Melissa Goodwin and Democratic Justices Chari Kelly and Edward Smith; the latter two were elected in 2018 as part of a wave of 19 Democratic judicial wins that flipped the four major state appeals courts.
“We’re gratified that a bipartisan panel of the Third Court of Appeals agrees that Texans should have the right to return their absentee ballots easily and safely,” said Mark Toubin, regional director for the Anti Defamation-League Southwest, one of the groups that brought the suit.
The reason that the charge of voter suppression in Texas and in Harris County falls on deaf ears is that the numbers don’t back up that claim. On Friday, Harris County surpassed the 1 million mark in early voting ballots cast. There is still more than a week to go for early voting in Harris County and Texas. The county clerk’s Twitter account recognized the milestone.
ONE MILLION people have now voted during Early Voting in Houston!!!
— Harris County Clerk (@HarrisVotes) October 23, 2020
Some voting locations are open 24 hours a day.
On October 29th, we just aren’t closing the Voting Centers. Vote all night long at eight locations. We won't close until 7 p.m. October 30th. pic.twitter.com/eawsfR78Sk
— Harris County Clerk (@HarrisVotes) October 23, 2020
It turns out that it is pretty easy to vote in Harris County.
Because of how wonderful and easy and accessible y’all have made it. HUGE SHOUTOUT to the Harris Votes staff and volunteers, y’all made this process so perfect
— B (@BritniB714) October 23, 2020
Today marks an inaugural Vote Early Day in Harris County. MTV is partnering with the Houston Rockets and the Harris County Clerk’s office for an event at the Toyota Center (home of the Houston Rockets). The Toyota Center was converted into an early voting location for the November 3 election. From the press release:
“We knew this November would be historic and I am blown away by how many Harris County voters have already gone to the polls but we have to keep this momentum up,” said Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins. “Our partnership with the Houston Rockets to have Toyota Center be a voting center for the first time goes to the power of the community to come together to make voting more accessible, convenient and safe this November. MTV recognizing our work for voters and choosing Houston to roll out the Red Carpet as part of their national Vote Early Day campaign is truly something to celebrate. I encourage all voters who want to vote early to come out and vote this Saturday.”
Vote Early Day is a national campaign by MTV to encourage voters to head to the polls on the last Saturday of Early Voting. The Houston Rockets and Toyota Center were selected to showcase a VMA-style red carpet where voters can celebrate casting their ballot alongside the 42 million voters who have already made their voice heard ahead of the November 3 General Election.
“MTV is thrilled to partner with Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins and the Houston Rockets to roll out our MTV red carpet to celebrate Vote Early Day and a be part of this historic year for early voting turnout in Houston,” said Maxwell Zorick, Senior Director of Social Impact, ViacomCBS Entertainment & Youth brands.
The red carpet at Toyota Center is part of MTV’s nationwide celebration of Vote Early Day. Building on the brand’s commitment to turning out young voters, MTV is engaged in more than 20 cities around the country with Vote Early Day activations and donations.
For reference, there are 122 voting centers open for early voting in Harris County. The Toyota Center is one of the drive-thru voting locations, too.