With counties across U.S. facing poll worker shortages, Harris County aims to be overprepared

A voter shows up to vote at the Moody Park Community Center during the July runoff election in Harris County. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
A voter shows up to vote at the Moody Park Community Center during the July runoff election in Harris County. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)

A voter shows up to vote at the Moody Park Community Center during the July runoff election in Harris County. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)

As election officials across the U.S. face challenges in recruiting poll workers during the coronavirus pandemic, officials in Harris County said they are in good shape to meet local needs.

Speaking at a virtual forum hosted Oct. 8 by Voter Protection Corps—a national group formed to protect voting rights in the U.S.—Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins said the county is on track to have polling locations fully staffed throughout the voting period.

Hollins previously estimated the county would need around 11,000 poll workers to properly staff its more than 120 early voting locations and 800 Election Day locations. Nearly 40,000 county residents have applied to be poll workers so far, including 6,000 high school students, he said. The county is now in the process of filling those 11,000 positions, Hollins said.

"We have been lucky in Harris County that there has been such a strong outpouring of support in the community," Hollins said. "We feel pretty good about where we are in terms of staffing out locations and making sure Harris County voters have as many options as possible for casting their ballots safely."

Despite the influx of applications, Hollins said his office will continue its recruitment efforts up until Election Day.

"While we’re in really good shape, ... the job of recruitment and training doesn’t stop," he said. "We need to be overprepared for this situation [so] that we have backups upon backups upon backups, just in case."

In Texas, poll workers are selected by election judges, who are appointed by each of the major political parties. The county's roll is to screen applications before providing them to the parties to make the decision, Hollins said.

Not having enough poll workers is one of several issues on the radar of voting rights advocates, including the Voter Protection Corps, ahead of the November election. A lack of poll workers could result in the closure of polling locations, which could, in turn, lead to longer lines that disenfranchise voters, VPC Chair Quentin Palfrey said.

Across the U.S., an estimated 900,000 poll workers will be needed to staff roughly 26,000 polling locations, Palfrey said. African American populations, homeless individuals and students are among the groups most likely to vote in person and would be most at risk of being disenfranchised if polling locations had to close, he said.

"One of the things that motivates us ... is to ensure this equity and make sure it’s not African Americans, students and historically disenfranchised groups that are facing obstacles," Palfrey said.

The ongoing effort to recruit poll workers in Harris County takes place in the wake of several decisions made at the state level affecting plans for voting by mail.

In an Oct. 7 decision, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Harris County could not send vote-by-mail applications to all registered voters in the county, arguing that the county did not have legal authority to do so. The county clerk's office initially announced plans to send the applications in late August, but Harris County was sued by Attorney General Ken Paxton shortly after.

On Oct. 1, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also announced that each county in the state would be limited to one location at which residents could drop off mail ballots. Harris County previously planned to collect ballots at 12 locations. Abbott, who has since been sued in both federal and state court by voting rights organizations, defended his order as a way to prevent voter fraud.

Hollins has been vocal with his criticisms about the restrictions on mail voting, which he likened to voter suppression at the Oct. 8 panel discussion. Following Abbott's announcement, Hollins said the county formed partnerships with the ride-sharing service Lyft and the More Than a Vote Foundation to provide discounted rides to seniors and disabled voters to the one remaining mail ballot drop-off location at NRG Arena.

Harris County residents interested in becoming poll workers can learn more at www.harrisvotes.com/electionworkers.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 met Jan. 21 at its new administrative offices. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 lays groundwork for 911 dispatching plans

Cypress Creek EMS currently serves as a dispatch facility for 17 emergency agencies.

(Courtesy The Connection School of Houston)
A guide to Cy-Fair private schools in 2021

See extracurricular activities offered, current enrollment and tuition rates at local private schools.

“Hope is on the horizon,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said at a press conference Jan. 4. “The vaccine is here.”
Vaccine distribution starts in Fort Bend County and more top Houston-area news

Read the most popular news from the past week from the Houston area.

The new salon specializes in manicures and pedicures as well as waxing and facials. (Courtesy King Nails Cypress)
King Nails Cypress plans grand opening on Hwy. 290

The new salon specializes in manicures and pedicures as well as waxing and facials.

Members of the Cy-Fair Fire Department Emergency Medical Services team respond to an accident on Brittmore Road in Cy-Fair on Jan. 8. (Courtesy Capt. Daniel Arizpe/Cy-Fair Fire Department)
New fund to benefit Cy-Fair firefighters, department members

"We want to be able to come in and do some work that needs to be done for these heroic people."

One local health system leader said he expects everyone, including those under age 65, will have access to the vaccine within the next 90 days. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston-area health system leaders talk progress, hurdles during COVID-19

Officials from CHI St. Luke’s Health and UTMB Health said community members must remain vigilant as case counts climb but that they expect the current surge to peak by early February.

During a North Houston Association meeting Jan. 20, Jazz Hamilton—first vice president with the Retail Brokerage Services Group for CBRE—discussed how the future of retail will likely be shaped by the conveniences to which consumers have become accustomed amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Pandemic-induced retail conveniences are here to stay, official says

According to Jazz Hamilton, first vice president with the Retail Brokerage Services group for CBRE, between January and November of 2020, consumers spent almost $550 billion online—a 33% increase from 2019.

The estimated number of active COVID-19 cases in Harris County has surpassed 50,000, reaching 51,362 as of the most recent data Jan. 20, according to the Harris County Public Health Department. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: Active cases top 50,000

See the latest trends on COVID-19 in Harris County.

Bao Bros. Bistro opened on Hwy. 6 in October, offering steamed bao buns, boba tea and beer. (Courtesy Bao Bros. Bistro)
44 restaurants, cafes and other eateries that opened in Cy-Fair in 2020

From our January edition: See the new openings in the Cy-Fair area over the past year

Krab Kingz is now open in Cypress. (Courtesy Krab Kingz)
Krab Kingz opens Cypress storefront

Krab Kingz entered a soft opening phase Jan. 14 at 12640 Telge Road, Ste. D, Cypress.

In addition to vaccine hubs, there are also smaller community vaccine providers throughout Texas, such as pharmacies, that may also have the vaccine available. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
EXPLAINED: When, where and how Texans can receive the COVID-19 vaccine

As Texas is still in the early stages of rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, many Texans are still unsure about where, when and how they can get inoculated.