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Federal Judge Rules Drive-Through Votes Are Valid In Harris County, Texas

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A Texas federal judge has dismissed a case that could have thrown out 127,000 ballots that were cast during drive-through voting. Houston Public Media's Elizabeth Trovall has more on the judge's decision and why Houston election officials are relieved.

ELIZABETH TROVALL, BYLINE: Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins celebrated the victory after Judge Andrew Hanen, a Bush appointee, dismissed the Republican-led case to throw out drive-through votes.

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CHRIS HOLLINS: The 127,000 voters who are eligible here in Harris County, who followed the rules, who cast their ballots fair and square, those folks are Democrats and Republicans, old and young, urban, rural.

TROVALL: Hollins says drive-through voting will stay open on Election Day, and all 127,000 votes will be counted. The Republican plaintiffs argued that drive-through voting was actually curbside voting, which under state law is only available for people with disabilities. But the judge said the plaintiffs had no basis on which to sue. The state Supreme Court also threw out a similar challenge on Sunday. Houston-based attorney David Hobbs celebrated the ruling.

DAVID HOBBS: I'm really, really happy with the judge's ruling. It was the right call. There's no injury here on behalf of politicians who are simply looking to throw out votes that they don't like.

TROVALL: He spoke out as an intervener on the case. He and his wife voted on the first day of early voting when she was 35 weeks pregnant.

HOBBS: I said it before. I'll say it again. It had all - it was just like you take a normal polling station. You walk in. You made the entrance big enough for a car. That's all it is. Everything else was the same.

TROVALL: The last-ditch lawsuit comes amid record early voting in Texas, which has become a surprisingly competitive state this year. In fact, Texas has already surpassed its 2016 level of voter turnout. Harris County, once dominated by Republicans, is now a Democratic stronghold. Before the ruling, dozens of voters like Sarah Jones took to the streets to protest the lawsuit. She was joined outside the courthouse Monday by her husband and four children.

SARAH JONES: My kids need to see this. My kids need to see that I'll crawl over broken glass to make sure that my vote counts.

TROVALL: Jones says she never expected her vote to be challenged, but the legal battle isn't quite over. Republican Steve Hotze, who filed the lawsuit, told reporters the plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Trovall in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.