Harris County — the third-largest county in the U.S. with a population of nearly 4,800,000 — now has a single early voting clerk’s office location, thanks to a proclamation issued October 1 by Gov. Greg Abbott.
The governor’s order, which is effective Friday, October 2, is meant to enhance ballot security protocols for the in-person delivery of marked mail ballots for the November 3 presidential election. That means closing 11 other early voting drop-off locations in the county.
Now, the sole Harris County drop-off location will be at NRG Arena. Ballots will be accepted in person beginning October 2 through Gate 8 from 8 am through 4:30 pm. Voters must present ID and signature. Early voting is set to begin on October 13.
“As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state,” Abbott said in a written statement. “These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
The proclamation also requires early voting clerks to allow poll watchers to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot, notes CultureMap news partner, ABC13.
Houston-area elected officials are already crying foul. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said in a statement that the move “will result in widespread confusion and voter suppression. Many mail ballots have already been dropped off by voters across Harris County, and multiple drop-off locations have been advertised for weeks. Our office is more than willing to accommodate poll watchers at mail ballot drop-off locations. But to force hundreds of thousands of seniors and voters with disabilities to use a single drop-off location in a county that stretches over nearly 2,000 square miles is prejudicial and dangerous.”
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo added: “Our county is the size of Rhode Island in land mass. It’s the size of Colorado almost in population, and having just one mail-in ballot drop off location is just ridiculous.”
Meanwhile, Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt defended the action. “This isn't voter suppression. This is how the law actually works,” Bettencourt told ABC13. “And that’s how the elections have been done in Texas. And quite frankly, I’m arguing for a law that's elected democrats so I don’t see how that's suppression.”