With voter turnout breaking records in Harris County, officials strategize on preventing long lines

Harris County officials are planning for record-breaking voter turnout in the November Presidential Election. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County officials are planning for record-breaking voter turnout in the November Presidential Election. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Harris County officials are planning for record-breaking voter turnout in the November Presidential Election. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Although polls are open until 7 p.m. in Harris County, officials with the county clerk's office said the previous record for the voter turnout on the first day of early voting had already been broken by mid-afternoon and the final count could end up being as much as 50% higher.

County Clerk Chris Hollins confirmed the record was broken in an Oct. 13 meeting of the Harris County Commissioners Court. Hollins also addressed concerns about long lines and the distribution of polling places and machines across the county's four precincts.

"This is the most accessible election in history of Harris County and Texas, but there are lines," Hollins told commissioners. "On this day, we’re actually excited there are so many people out there early voting because it will make the rest of early voting and election day safer."

The topic was brought up by Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who questioned the analysis that went into determining how many voting locations were put in each precinct. During the early voting period, Precinct 1 has 41 locations while precincts 2, 3 and 4 have 27, 28 and 26 locations, respectively. Precinct 4 has the largest number of registered voters, Cagle said.

Several early voting locations in Precinct 4 were dealing with hour-long waits, including at Barbara Bush Library, Klein Multipurpose Center and the Samuel Matthews Park Community Center, Cagle said. He questioned if the county would consider placing more voting machines in the locations where the wait times were the longest.

"We don’t need to be having these kinds of long lines with this kind of money we’re spending in the election," Cagle said.

Hollins defended the distribution of voting locations by pointing out that all four precincts have seen their number of early voting locations at least double since the 2016 Presidential Election. In addition to the larger turnout, the elimination of straight ticket voting and the addition of municipal races to the ballot after the cancellation of May elections have also added to the wait times, he said.

For smaller locations, adding more voting machines may not be possible with social distancing guidelines in place, but the county has an additional supply of machines that can be put into operation, Hollins said.

"We actually gave [the Barbara Bush Library] far more [voting machines] than they could physically fit because we wanted to give them the opportunity to see if they could be creative and squeeze them in," Hollins said. "The problem with ... many libraries is that they are really, really small and frankly cannot fit a large number of machines while social distancing."

Hollins also said greeters at each polling location have been instructed to let voters know if shorter lines can be found at other nearby locations. Cagle asked about the possibility of posting signage at the more popular voting locations letting people know what other locations are nearby that might have shorter lines, an option Hollins said would also be explored.

"We tried to use as much data as possible from previous elections. Conditions have changed and voter habits have also changed," Hollins said. "We’ll learn from today and make additional adjustments."

Voters can find a list of early voting locations along with estimated wait times at https://harrisvotes.com/locations.
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.


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