The Texas Secretary of State’s Office has awarded Harris County with a successful status for the Countywide Polling Place Program in the wake of the May elections.
Harris County is one of 52 counties with this designation.
Harris County Clerk Dr. Diane Trautman said the results from the spring election, the first time the program was implemented, speak for itself.
“Feedback from communities across the county has been largely positive, and I am pleased that voters will continue to be able to choose a convenient location to cast their ballot,” Trautman said.
Harris County is the largest county in the country to have executed a successful election where voters can cast a ballot at any polling location, Trautman said. “Approximately 36 percent of voters traveled outside of their home precinct to vote on Election Day,” Trautman said. “Voters will once again be able to vote anywhere in the county both on Election Day and during Early Voting this November.”
Roxanne Werner, Harris County Clerk spokeswoman said this fall, voters will have approximately 740 polling locations from which to choose.
“It might be a little more or less, but that is an approximate number,” Werner said. “For May, we had less, around 200 to 300 locations. The reason for that was in the past May election, there was not that many entities participating, so large parts of the county didn’t have anything on the ballot, and there were no polling locations there. In November, it will be a countywide election, so there will be polling places all around the county.”
Trautman has supported the polling program after she took office in January. The clerk’s office held multiple public hearings and meetings about the program ahead of the unanimous vote by Harris County Commissioners Court to apply for the program in February.
“Voting is a fundamental right, and it is of the utmost importance that the ballot is accessible to all residents of Harris County,” Trautman said.
Judi Craig, an elections supervisor in Baytown, said the program would help many voters, ensuring their vote is counted.
“It gives everyone an opportunity to go vote near where they live or work,” Craig said. “For instance, if they work in Houston, there is going to be voting areas there where they can vote even though they live in Baytown. It is just like we had in May.
They are trying to give more people an opportunity to vote.”
Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson said he is pleased Harris County is compliant with the law.
“All Harris County voters benefit from convenient and readily accessible voting locations; and because every vote should count equally, all voters benefit by maintaining election integrity,” Simpson said. “That is why we appreciate the good work of the Secretary of State to require the Democrat County Clerk show her countywide voting center scheme meets the law – so it does not do more harm than good.”
Simpson said Harris County, as the nation’s third largest, poses unique challenges for countywide voting centers.
“Every electronic poll book in every countywide voting center must update in real-time, so people can vote only once,” Simpson said. “In the very-low-turnout May 2019 election, the Harris County Republican Party documented that the poll books used in voting centers did not update in a timely manner.”
Simpson expressed concerns the county clerk’s electronic poll book system may not be ready for what could be one of the largest simultaneous voting operations in the nation in November 2020.
“Furthermore, shrinking the number of polling locations as a Band-Aid to make that system work would defeat its stated purpose and make voting less accessible to voters,” he said.
However, Werner said the clerk’s office is ready.
“A lot of it is voter education, and obviously we are doing a lot of testing of the polling sites for connectively and (Americans with Disabilities) compliance,” Werner said. “We are taking all of the necessary precautions. Very similar to early voting, so we are kind of running early voting elections and applying that to Election Day.”