Tens of thousands of voters headed to the polls in the first several hours of Election Day Tuesday in greater Houston, but record-setting turnout throughout this year’s extended early voting period has made for lines that are short to nonexistent across much of the area.
At 11:47 a.m. Harris County Clerk’s Office Communications Administrator Elizabeth Lewis said that 87,000 votes had already been cast on Election Day in the county, with 24,000 coming in the first hour of voting. By 2 p.m., over 119,000 Harris County residents had voted on Tuesday.
“I think we’re on track to comfortably hit 200,000 [to] upwards of 300,000 [votes cast] today,” said Lewis. Even a vote total on the higher side of that range would be lower than the number of Harris County residents who voted on Election Day in 2016, which was approximately 353,327. That’s likely due to the overwhelming number of residents who took advantage of six extra days of early voting, as Harris County surpassed its total 2016 vote total during the early voting period alone this year.
The consequence of thousands of voters choosing to vote early when they might have voted on Election Day in years past meant there weren’t really any significant voting lines at all across Harris County on Tuesday after the first few hours of voting. The number of polling places this year also probably helped out on the line front — there are 806 places to vote this year in Harris County, about 50 more than in 2016, Lewis said.
In Fort Bend County, there are 84 places to vote, up one from the 83 that were open in 2016 according to an ABC13 report. As of 11:30 a.m., 12,500 votes had been cast in Fort Bend County since polls opened at 7 a.m., said John Oldham, the county’s nonpartisan Elections Administrator. Oldham is pretty certain his county’s 2020 Election Day turnout will also fall short of 2016’s.
“At this pace, I’m thinking 40,000 [votes on Election Day], which is 20,000 lower than four years ago,” Oldham said, which he believed is due to how many people opted to vote early this election, whether due to high enthusiasm or as a safety precaution to avoid potentially large Election Day crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the Houston Metropolitan Multi-Service Center voting site on West Gray in Houston, there were only 10 people in line at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.
“It’s pretty slow,” said Jamal Howard of the crowd at the West Gray polling place. Howard was out collecting signatures to gauge support for starting a new political party, and had been out at the Rice Stadium voting site earlier on Tuesday, where he said the lines were way shorter than what he saw during early voting.
“I went early voting already at Rice University, and it wasn’t wrapped around the corner, but it was a pretty good line. But this morning, it was literally maybe five people in line. So it’s pretty slow.”
A gaggle of masked campaigners stood at the entrance to the Multi-Service Center, holding up signs in support of Sima Ladjevardian, the Houston Democrat hoping to take Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s seat in Congress. Across the street was a group of around 10 maskless Trump supporters. They waved TRUMP 2020 flags and blared a mix of country music and a rap song extolling Trump’s virtues that’s surely won’t hit the top of the pop charts any time soon, all while a blonde woman shouted out buzzwords and catchphrases into a megaphone about some cockamamie Joe Biden “scandal” that would have only made sense to folks who’d already spent dozens of hours steeped in far-right conspiracy theories.
There was no line of cars outside the Toyota Center — the sole Harris County drive-thru voting location open on Election Day — on Tuesday morning, although there was a steady trickle of vehicles entering and leaving just after 10 a.m.
Up at Clark Park Community Center in Houston’s Northside neighborhood, a volunteer for state Sen. Carol Alvarado said about 80 people had voted there as of 10:57 a.m. on Tuesday.
“I feel like all our voices matter. We’re Hispanics, and we wanted to come and vote and set an example for our families and our kids,” said Valeria Bazaldua, who brought a friend to vote with her at the Northside polling place. “As minorities a lot of us don’t feel like our voices matter and so we don’t vote.”
Bazaldua said that her own father wasn’t planning to vote on Election Day “because he doesn’t know how.”
“I don’t think they’ve done enough outreach to help people learn how to vote this year, especially for people who don’t know English,” she said.
Lines weren’t an issue at the Hightower High School voting site in Fort Bend Independent School District. There was a sparse number of voters gathered just before lunch, though people handing out flyers said more had been by in the early morning. Voters were directed to the Buddy Hopson Field House instead of inside the school, as has been standard in the past.
Margaret Drenon was out to support her best friend, Judge Teana Watson, who’s running for re-election, and confirmed that not many people were coming through to vote on Tuesday.
More devoted partisans from both parties were out supporting their candidates at the Fort Bend County Annex voting site in Missouri City, where there also wasn’t any line to speak of. Signs posted outside reminded residents that even though polls in Texas close at 7 p.m., any voter in line by then will still be allowed to vote.
Marockus Silas was out wearing a T-shirt urging voters to pick Democrats throughout the ballot. He brought along his son, who was happily eating a hot dog.
Silas’s focus is on Democrats locally. He thinks they’ll help out with “drainage, better speed bumps and more income.”
Out in the parking lot, Morris Hewitt was there with his wife Donna and Shiva Naidu, all urging votes for Republican Troy Nehls for Congress, as well as for his brother Trever, who’s running for Troy’s current gig as Fort Bend County Sheriff.
“Both brothers have been in Fort Bend County for all their lives,” said Naidu. “They know about the safety of the citizens from their experience.”
“They’re both decorated war heroes. Hopefully Trump is going to get by too,” said Morris Hewitt.
Trump will almost certainly need to get by with the Lone Star State’s 38 Electoral College votes if he’s going to win a second term, and a Biden win in Texas would likely be a sign of a massive blue wave across the country that would surely sweep the president out of the White House. A Morning Consult poll of likely Texas voters from Monday showed the two candidates in a dead-heat at 48 percent each.
All paths to a potential Biden victory in Texas depend on high turnout in Harris County, which has become a reliable Democratic stronghold in recent years that’s helped lessen the impact of heavy conservative enthusiasm in more rural parts of the state.
A total of 1.43 million Harris County residents cast their ballots during Early Voting alone in 2020, a record for any election in the county, but the Harris County Clerk’s Office is hoping Election Day gets them to their informal goal of 1.7 million total votes.
“I would love to see a 1.7 [million] turnout number, total,” said Lewis. ”That would just be wild...That’s the number that we used for a lot of our projections, like how to buy PPE.”
Anna Ta and Margaret Downing contributed to this report.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.