A record number of voters showed up at early voting sites in Harris County (Houston) on Tuesday. According to an email from the county clerk’s office last night, the total number of in-person voters Tuesday is 128,186. The total number of mail-in ballots returned is 41,337. Enthusiasm to vote is high and preparations have been made for a very large voter turn-out in the county.
Why does Harris County matter? The county matters because Democrats have taken control and demographics are changing. Harris County, the most populous county in Texas and the third-most populous county in the United States, was a dependable, solid red county for many years. Houston is a liberal big city and has been for years. There’s a saying, As Harris County goes, so goes Texas. That was true in the past, as all statewide offices have been held by Republicans for more than twenty years but things are changing. Texas, believe it or not, is more purple than red now. Democrats smell blood in the water and are working hard to seize the opportunity to turn Texas back to a blue state.
The new Harris County Clerk, a Democrat tasked with running elections in Harris County, is aggressively and quickly expanding how local residents vote. Chris Hollins has been in the job since June. He was shut down by the Supreme Court of Texas from mailing out applications for mail-in ballots to every registered voter in the county – more than 2.3 million registered voters. Texas is one of only a few states in the country that requires voters to meet specific qualifications to receive a mail-in ballot. These qualifications include age (65 years or older), illness or disability, out of the county during the election period, and incarcerated but still eligible to vote. The Supreme Court of Texas also ruled that fear of the coronavirus is not a disability, therefore it does not qualify for the disability requirement. There have been many lawsuits over early voting in Harris County, some still pending.
The Republican Party of Texas (RPT) filed a lawsuit against the county over drive-thru early voting sites on Monday, one day before early voting began in Texas. This is a new way of voting that Hollins introduced during the July primary elections, the first election period under his control. In July, the experiment was a limited one. He was pleased with the results and decided to expand the option of drive-thru voting for the general election. There are ten drive-thru locations throughout Harris County. Collins looks at the option as an expansion of curbside voting which has been in place for years. The RPT contends that voters who are not qualified to vote at a curbside location yet vote in a drive-thru location are doing so illegally. “Unless stopped, each of these instances of illegal voting will cast a cloud over the results of the General Election,” the lawsuit states.
In a petition filed late Monday in Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals, the Texas Republican Party contended the Texas Election Code limits curbside voting, including drive-thru voting, to voters who are sick or disabled, or if voting inside the polling location “would create a likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Those provisions do not apply to the coronavirus pandemic, the party argued in its filing.
“Chris Hollins is telling all Harris County residents that they are eligible for curbside voting when he knows that is not the case,” the party said in a statement. “Any voter that does not qualify to vote curbside under narrow statutory language would be voting illegally if allowed to vote drive-through.”
Voters may use curbside voting if they have a medical condition that makes it difficult to go inside to vote. A ballot is brought out to them by an election worker. At the drive-thru voting sites, an election worker hands a voting machine through the car window after their voter identification is checked. The RPT seeks to limit the option to those who have submitted sworn applications saying they qualify for it. Democrats in Texas say there is no such restriction in the state’s election law.
Glenn Smith, a senior strategist with Progress Texas, said Tuesday he could find nothing in the law requiring an application to vote curbside. Texas election law instructs election officers to deliver an on-site curbside ballot if a voter is “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.”
Hollins calls the RPT’s lawsuit “frivolous” and the Texas Democrat Party chairman calls Republicans “cowards”. When all else fails, name-call.
Chris Hollins, the Harris County Clerk, said the latest lawsuit is in line with the Republican Party “feverishly” using resources to limit people’s right to vote.
“This lawsuit is not only frivolous, but it’s also a gross misrepresentation of the differences between curbside voting — for voters with disabilities, including illness — and drive-thru voting, which is available for all voters who want to vote from the safety and convenience of their vehicle,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa called Republican party leaders “cowards” and said in a statement that Gov. Greg Abbott, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton “will stop at nothing to try to stop Texans from voting in the middle of a pandemic.”
The Democrats, both locally and nationally, want the public to think that Republicans are suppressing the vote in Texas. That couldn’t be more untrue. Governor Abbott, a Republican, increased the early voting period to the longest time ever allotted – it goes from October 13 to October 30 this election – and early voting sites have been greatly increased. Any registered voter can go to any early voting site to vote, it doesn’t have to be the voter’s normally assigned Election Day voting site. As mentioned, there is curbside voting available and now there is drive-thru voting available. Mail-in voting continues as normal, too, with the option of dropping off a mail-in ballot into a drop-off ballot box in every county. It was very disingenuous of Senator Amy Klobuchar, for example, to claim that votes are being suppressed in Texas as she did during Amy Coney Barrett’s hearing yesterday. That was just a partisan attack by an insincere Democrat in an election year. Democrats like to toss the charge of voter suppression around and it is all for political theatre.
Texans don’t seem to feel suppressed if yesterday is any indication. Lines were long and voters waited to vote. Records were set with the turn-out. People are showing up to vote in person despite the fearmongering over the coronavirus, as it turns out.
The massive turnout produced long lines at a number of polling places, leading some voters to wait for more than an hour. About a third of the county’s 112 early voting locations — including 10 drive-thru sites — reported wait times of at least 40 minutes for parts of the day, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office. And voters remained in line well after polls closed at 7 p.m., waiting for their chance to cast a ballot.
Many voters were not dissuaded, even with 17 days left to vote before Election Day.
“If I’ve got to wait for an hour or two, it’s worth it to just get it out of the way, get it done and know that my vote is counted,” said Jackson Neagli, a 24-year-old law student who was one of several dozen people in line at the Moody Community Center voting location around 9 a.m.
It look less than seven hours for the county to surpass its 2016 record of 68,000 in-person votes on the first day of early voting.
The in-person vote total also set a record for any day of early voting, surpassing the 100,000 people who voted on the last day of early voting in 2016.
A quick glance of the breakdown by voting site in the county clerk’s email last night shows voter enthusiasm up in most locations, both in Republican-leaning areas and Democrat-leaning areas. Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that Harris County and certainly Houston will go for Joe Biden. I still think that Texas will go to Trump. But it is important to remember that voters need to stay and vote all the way down the ballot. Those elections are important, too, especially as they determine the make-up of the state legislature and of representation in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Most of all, it is important that Republicans continue to fight the power grabs attempted by Democrats in Texas, especially Harris County.
As I finish this, I hear Senator Leahy complain that Harris County has “only” one drop-off ballot box in Harris County. Take a seat, Senator Leahy. As the former Harris County Judge said recently, any mailbox in the county is a drop-off box for a MAIL-IN ballot, for heaven’s sake. Perhaps Democrats should have thought of that before they repeatedly incited fear into their voters over the safety of mailing in ballots this year. They get no sympathy now.