To justify many of the changes in the law, Texas Republicans are pointing to 2020 election practices in Harris County, which includes Houston, arguing that the county went far beyond the Texas Election Code in allowing drive-thru voting, sending out mail-in ballot applications and allowing voters to register through P.O. box addresses.
Here’s a look at the facts around those claims from Texas Republicans:
Opening drive-thru voting centers was one of the hotly disputed practices that Harris County implemented due to Covid-19.
Texas Republicans have argued that the practice is not permitted under the state’s election code.
“Drive-thru voting has never been allowed in Texas,” Texas state Sen. Bryan Hughes told CNN on Monday. “It’s not in the election code.”
Early voting can take place in any “structure,” the definition of which is flexible according to Joaquin Gonzalez, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, a legal advocacy group.
“In looking at the context of ‘structure’ in other areas, it’s broader than just a building,” said Gonzalez. “That’s actually what the federal court agreed with.”
Requests to shutdown drive-thru polling locations were rejected by a federal court in Houston, which said that the plaintiffs — a Republican state representative, two GOP candidates and a conservative activist — did not have the standing to sue Harris County.
The published opinion by US Southern District Judge Andrew Hanen agreed that “structure” was not specifically defined in the Texas Election Code and noted that the code allows for “temporary branch polling places” during early voting. Hanen stated that drive-thru voting was permissible during early voting because tents used at voting locations would be considered “structures.”
Arguing that the “integrity of the elections in 2020” was questioned, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that in Houston the “county election’s clerk attempted to send unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to millions of voters, many of whom would not be eligible to vote by mail.”
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican, criticized election officials in a March 15 press conference, stating that one of his “pet peeves, and I just can’t believe we’re still doing this in Harris County, is we’re allowing people to be registered to private P.O. boxes.”
“Nobody in this room lives in a 2-inch by 3-inch private P.O. box.,” Bettencourt continued. “But in Harris County, 4,880, nearly 5,000 people are still registered.”
“(W)e have to have a voter roll that functions in Harris County,” Bettencourt said at the time. “We cannot conduct an election in the charged atmosphere of 2018 without a voter roll that the public believes in in its integrity.”
Facts First: This needs context. While private P.O. boxes are not accepted for voter registration in Harris County, the Texas Election Code provides that if an applicant does not have a residence address, they are able to use the address at which they “receive mail” with a “concise description of the location of the applicant’s residence.”
Bettencourt told CNN he is referring to people who register using a commercial postal store address. This is permitted under Texas Election Code.
According to Roxanne Werner, deputy communications director for the Harris County Elections Administrator, voter registration applications in Harris County that list a P.O. Box as an address are not processed. Texans must include a physical address on their voter registration application, in which there is no space to write-in a PO box number. Under address, the application itself says “Do not include P.O. Box.”
Store addresses appear the same as any apartment or home address would on voter applications and election officials are unable to challenge a voters’ address unless it is clearly a P.O. box, said Werner.
For those without a physical address, Bettencourt’s proposed legislation would require them to provide an affidavit to the registrar saying they have no address and provide “a concise description of the location of the voter’s residence.”