Houston-After 8pm on Tuesday night, Hector Martinez went straight to an early polling place near his home after get off work and flung his headlights into the indoor voting.
Four years ago, the polling station closest to his office was closed at 5 pm on most workdays, which prevented Martinez from getting there after his night shift as a maintenance worker. As a result, the wound was waiting in line for nearly an hour to vote on 2016 Election Day.
Martinez, 47, said after voting at the Bellin Park Community Center in southwest Houston, “It’s much easier.”
Martinez voted for former Vice President Biden in the presidential race. Among the more than 1.2 million voters who have voted in Harris County (including Houston) as of Wednesday night, almost surpassed the fast-growing county total voter turnout rate from 2016. Start. Experts say that the surge in voter participation in the third largest county in the United States will almost certainly benefit the Democratic Party, which may be the key to turning Texas from red to blue. It shows the possibility when local officials make large investments to simplify voting.
In 2016, under the leadership of the Republican Party, Harris County spent about $4 million to manage elections. After the Democrats took control of every county office, officials increased this year’s election budget to a staggering $31 million.
This tripled the number of early voting places for election officials among the county’s 4.7 million residents. They have greatly extended voting time, so residents like Martinez can come back after get off work. In the final days of early voting, certain areas will be open 24 hours. Officials also opened 10 “drive-thru” polling stations across the county, making it possible for residents worried about the coronavirus to vote for car safety reasons.
As a result, Harris County residents voted more than ever before at the beginning of this year.
“What we saw was that they came when you built it.” Judge Lina Hidalgo, the highest elected public opinion officer in Harris County, said she was the first woman to hold the job and the first to hold the position. Latino. “We learned that we cannot blame the voters themselves for the historical lack of participation. These are the obstacles.”
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, said these changes could have a profound impact on Tuesday’s presidential election. Voting shows that Texas is extremely racially tense, and some election forecasters now label this once-strong Republican state as “toss.” Rottinghouse said that if Biden defeats President Donald Trump and becomes the first Democrat to win Texas since 1976, it will be unprecedented in large cities and suburban communities like Harris County, the most populous state in the state. Vote.
Rottinghouse said: “Harris County is the tip of the Texas Democrats.” He said: “It needs leading turnout to offset some of the Republican strongholds in rural areas of the state. Basically, if Harris County Without a huge turnout, Texas would not turn over.”
He estimated that at least 1.5 million voters need to vote in Harris County before the Democrats have a reasonable chance of winning Texas. By voting two more days in advance, the county may reach the total before election day.
“I mean, don’t be clichéd, but elections will have consequences,” Rottinghouse said. He was referring to 2018, when Hidalgo and other Democrats won the county representative office in Harris County. “When you start to make policy changes to get people to participate more, you will see other types of voters participating in the polls. So this is exactly what we are seeing.”
Not everyone welcomes these changes. Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an order in October to restrict counties to one absent place for absentee voting, forcing the closure of 11 other locations across Harris County . The Republican Party of Texas fought an unsuccessful legal battle that forced Harris County to close its direct polling stations. Leading state Republicans also failed to block Abbott’s order, allowing counties to increase their six-day early voting during the pandemic.
Hidalgo pointed out that voters in Republican-leaning areas in northern Harris County have also benefited.
She said: “As far as our investment is concerned, this is entirely the participation of all voters.”
The widespread expansion of voting methods in Harris County was an embarrassing headline in the Democratic primary election held here seven months ago, when dozens of Houston voters were forced to wait in line for nearly six hours-until 1 am
Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins (Chris Hollins) became the main driver of this transition, and he was appointed to the position in June. Hollins, 33, a graduate of Yale Law School and Harvard Business School, he formed a team to study what went wrong in March and how to solve it.
This has led to the plan to greatly expand the location and time of early voting, and rely on data to better distribute voting machines to the regions with the most voters. In August, Hollins’ office issued an appeal for 11,000 electoral workers to implement his ambitious plan. According to some experts, voters in Harris County were enthusiastic, with more than 29,000 people voting.
Hollins said: “If there is no engaged person, none of these will work.”
When they were making plans, Hollins was most worried about finding ways to make it easier for people with difficult work schedules to vote. The data shows that among Harris County residents who voted after 5 pm, the proportion of Latinos is disproportionately, possibly because they are more likely to work in service.
Historically, Latinos are also less likely to vote in Texas.
This is why starting on Thursday, Hollins’ plan calls for eight of the county’s 122 early voting venues to remain open 24 hours.
“This is for every voter who needs to vote, whether it’s a worker in a factory near town, or working at the Texas Medical Center to save lives during the pandemic, or in a grocery store, Delivery at 2 or 3 in the morning.” Hollins said. “We will provide every voter with an opportunity to vote at their convenience.”
James Childress, 73, praised this. On Tuesday evening, he walked to an early voting site near his home and voted within a few minutes. Childress, a black housekeeper worker at the Veterans Hospital, is assured that he does not have to hurry home after get off work, as he did in the last election.
“Nothing can stop me from voting this year,” said Childress, who voted for Biden. “But I’m glad that the power that can work makes it easier for all of us.”