Texas's Biggest County Tries Crazy Plan: Make It Easy For People To Vote. People Are Voting Like Crazy!

Harris County, Texas, is home to Houston and 4.7 million residents. It's the third-largest county in the USA, and a stronghold for Texas's democratic voters. And it might just be the key to flipping Texas blue in the 2020 presidential race. Whether that happens or not, the Democrats who now run the county have gone to great lengths to make voting easier for residents, which has already resulted in astonishing turnout: More than 1.2 million voters have either voted early or submitted absentee ballots, and pre-Election Day turnout alone looks likely to surpass the county's total number of votes from 2016. Wait, scratch that, it already did.

NBC News notes that in 2016, when the county was under Republican leadership, the budget for elections was just $4 million. Democrats were swept into office by 2018's blue wave in Texas, and they made improving voter turnout a top priority, budgeting $31 million for elections this year. So what is the county doing with all that money? Good things for democracy, even as some bitter old Bircher mutters "It's a republic, damn it!" Here are a few things Harris County did to make the franchise more widely accessible:

  • Tripled the number of early voting locations, from 40 in 2016 to 112 sites this year
  • Expanded early voting hours. Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, all sites were open until 10 p.m.
  • 10 drive-through voting locations.
  • Starting yesterday, eight early voting sites opened overnight, remaining open 36 hours, until the 7 p.m. end of early voting Friday, to accommodate people who work during usual voting hours.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county's top official, told NBC News,

What we're seeing is, when you build it they come. [...] We've learned that we can't blame the historic lack of participation on the voters themselves. It's been these obstacles.

Not surprisingly, the state's Republicans don't look too kindly on all this enfranchisement. Although Gov. Greg Abbott did make one accommodation to the pandemic, allowing six extra days of early voting statewide, he also arbitrarily limited the number of absentee ballot collection sites to one per county earlier this month. That forced Harris County to shutter 11 locations besides the one still operating.

The Texas GOP sued, unsuccessfully, to roll back the six extra days of early voting, and to close Harris County's drive-in locations. You know what sorts of things people get up to in their cars! Maybe folks voting in cars would do fraud behind their tinted windows, even though the sites check IDs and do all the ballot security stuff you'd find in an ordinary polling place. Worst of all, it's convenient for people with disabilities and folks who'd rather not risk COVID-19, so clearly it's bad.

Hidalgo also pointed out that the extended voting access and hours are every bit as available to Republican-leaning precincts in the northern part of the county, because "participation for all voters" really does include all voters. Wouldn't it be something if we did that everywhere?

This how-to video produced by Harris County doesn't look like it's an invitation to fraud, but then, that's what THEY want you to think. Also, is it really "drive through" voting if you have to park?

So hooray for Harris County, and let's hope other cities and counties are watching. Voting should be easy, damn it.

In celebration of the franchise, and of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, some Texas women made a video of their very glam voting outing. Don't read the Twitter replies, because those people are jerks. We think it's wonderful.

We do think, however, that their outfits would have been tastefully enhanced if they'd also worn Wonkette's "I DISSENT" face masks. Get one now for your own electoral strutting.

Vote joyfully, Harris County.

[NBC News / Click2Houston]

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