Harris County releases details on voting precautions for July runoffs

The list of 23 initiatives covers things such as poll worker safety, preventing vote tampering and reducing the time it takes to report results. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
The list of 23 initiatives covers things such as poll worker safety, preventing vote tampering and reducing the time it takes to report results. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

The list of 23 initiatives covers things such as poll worker safety, preventing vote tampering and reducing the time it takes to report results. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Harris County election officials announced a set of initiatives June 15 meant to ensure election integrity and prevent the spread of the coronavirus during July runoff elections.

The list of 23 initiatives—called the S.A.F.E. Plan, which stands for safe, secure, accessible, fair and efficient plan—covers things such as poll worker safety, preventing vote tampering and reducing the time it takes to report results. The plan was released by interim County Clerk Christopher Hollins, who was appointed to the position by the Harris County Commissioners Court to replace Diane Trautman, who resigned May 31, citing health concerns.

“My commitment to all the residents of Harris County is to administer a safe, secure and fair election this July and again in November," Hollins said in the June 15 release.

The county has also increased the number of early voting locations by five and is planning to extend hours at certain locations.

The announcement comes after several rulings in state and federal courts against the argument for allowing all voters to apply for mail ballots based on the idea that a lack of coronavirus immunity constituted a disability under state law. The Texas Supreme Court has ruled on the case, but another case in federal court could end up going before the Supreme Court before November elections.


Harris County Commissioners Court has approved up to $12 million for the clerk's office to invest in safety measures and capabilities to process an expected increase in mail ballots.

The 23 items are separated into five categories.


Safety

  • provide personal protective equipment to all poll workers and voters who need it;

  • optimize the floor plans of polling locations for safety and social distancing; and

  • promote and maximize voting by mail within the bounds of the law.


Security


  • ensure the security of voting systems and hardware; and

  • respond proactively to any reports of voter intimidation, coercion, or fraud.


Accessibility


  • utilize data to increase the number and optimize the locations of polling sites;

  • procure sufficient additional machines from other jurisdictions and provide them with exceptional technical support;

  • allocate machines across polling sites based on known traffic patterns and expected turnout;

  • accurately report wait times across the county during the early voting period and on election day;

  • provide increased voting hours during the early voting period;

  • ensure Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility across County polling sites; and

  • increase curbside voting and potentially introduce drive-thru voting.


Fairness


  • increase outreach to all voters and groups traditionally left out of the democratic process;

  • seek and incorporate meaningful feedback from all stakeholders;

  • count every vote and ensure the accuracy of election results;

  • reduce the time it takes to report results on election day; and

  • proactively engage provisional ballot voters on how to cure their ballots so they may be counted.


Efficiency


  • recruit more than enough poll workers to operate polling locations during the early voting period and on election day;

  • train poll workers and clarify standard operating procedures for a safe and effective operation under the current circumstances;

  • prepare resources in anticipation of increased vote-by-mail usage by Harris County voters;

  • put key performance indicators in place to measure preparedness in ensuring a S.A.F.E. election for the voters of Harris County;

  • optimize the ballot layout to allow voters to cast their votes more quickly; and

  • procure the next generation of voting machines for use beyond 2020.


Early voting for July runoffs runs from June 29-July 2 and from July 5-10. Election day is July 14. More information can be found at www.harrisvotes.com.
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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