The House Elections Committee met on September 12, 2019 in Harris County to discuss the implementation of county wide voting. The Committee heard testimony from representatives of Harris County and other nearby counties, local representatives from political parties, and the public concerning their opinions on the county wide voting center program.

This report is intended to give you an overview and highlight of the discussions on the various topics the committee took up. This report is not a verbatim transcript of the hearing; it is based upon what was audible or understandable to the observer and the desire to get details out as quickly as possible with few errors or omissions.


Invited Testimony

Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Judge

  • We appreciate the work you do and value our partnership.
  • We are expanding the number of voting locations.
  • We are thoughtful about making our elections safe and secure.


Diane Trautman, Harris County Clerk

  • During my campaign for Harris County Clerk, I witnessed hundreds of voters be turned away and sent to their neighborhood precinct location.
  • Very often, those precincts would change location and voters would cast a provisional ballot that likely did not count.
  • I knew then that we needed a more convenient way of voting for Harris County.
  • My team and I presented our plan to the Commissioner’s Court, along with 30 other groups.
  • Several Harris County officials supported the plan.
  • We held over 7 community meetings, media presentations, and public hearings to educate the community about the program.
  • On February 12, 2019 we received permission to allow county wide polling in Harris County.
  • Voter participation data showed a significant increase in the number of voters due to this change.
  • Over 1/3 of voters, despite voting being on a Saturday, chose a location other than their home location.
  • In preparation for the November election, we know it will take a combined effort to conduct this election.
  • Harris has tested all locations recommended for ADA compliance and connectivity issues.
  • Regarding the number of polling locations, there can be anywhere from 100-170 polling locations.
  • There are no standards in place for E-Poll books.
  • The TX Secretary of State has reviewed our E-Poll books and declared them compliant.
  • We will be introducing a text bot to encourage and aid voters in locating a polling location.
  • We are partnering with the TX Secretary of State’s cybersecurity team to ensure the security of our system.
  • Cortez: Bear County is about to implement voting centers. Will you share best practices with our election’s administrator?
  • Cortez: Outreach was done through the County Commissioners?
    • With their help.
  • Cortez: All of your material is bilingual?
  • Swanson: I am distressed by how many voting locations you’re showing in…
    • Our studies have shown the turnout is not viable in that area.
  • Swanson: My understanding is the County Clerk should seek out those locations, not wait for them to come to you magically.
    • We are reaching out.
  • Swanson: I’m surprised Harris County was cleared to continue despite poor results in May.
  • Swanson: I’ve heard it took 45 minutes to register for an E-Poll book.
    • I’ve never heard that. You may have incorrect information.
  • Fierro: How much of an increase on your budget will this be?
    • We had to buy surplus machines that cost us $87,000.
  • Cain: Did I hear correctly that Harris County is putting polling locations in jails?
    • The request was to do a study with the County Sheriff and study the possibility.
    • It will not be possible at this time.
    • We will step up voter education and mail ballot program in County jails.
  • Cain: Government or private entity will do that?
    • We furnish voting information to everyone that asks.
  • Cain: You mentioned text bots. Will you be texting everyone in Harris County?
    • Our tech side is working on that.
  • Klick: Is it true Harris has the longest ballot in the country?
  • Klick: I’m concerned about the loss of straight ticket voting. Do you have concerns that will lengthen the voting time?
    • However, not that voters can vote at any location, that should reduce wait times.
    • Also, our system that tells voters the wait time will help reduce wait times.
  • Klick: Do you have procedures in place for voting in case of a disaster?
    • Yes we do.
  • Israel: I appreciate your approach to this process.
  • Israel: Can you explain the importance of connectivity?
    • E-Poll books rely on cellular connectivity.
    • Sometimes you send an email and it is received right away, sometimes it takes longer.
    • If we have a slow location, we do what we can to boost connectivity.
  • Middleton: You’ve promised to keep open the 700 polling locations until the November election. When will we know for the 2020 locations which locations you intend to close?
    • We don’t plan to close any.
    • We might consolidate some, but we cannot do anything until we have data from this November election.
    • We will make recommendations to the Commissioner’s Court well in advance of the election.
  • Swanson: Thank you for working on the connectivity issue.
    • We are proud of our E-Poll book provider.


Joyce Hudman, Brazoria County Clerk

  • We began with punch cards in 1999.
  • In 2006 we implemented…
  • In 2008 we began standardizing our polling locations
  • 2014 we purchased our first poll book which enabled us to begin hearings for statewide polling locations.
  • 2017 we purchased a touch screen system with electronic poll pads.
  • We implemented a troubleshooting table.
  • We have added four voting locations.
  • Israel: Your county has experienced a lot of growth. What was your motivation for going to county wide polling several years ago?
    • Consistency of the polling locations and frustration from turning people away.
  • Swanson: Why did county wide polling require you to close so many polling locations?
    • We contracted with DRE to hold joint elections.
    • We therefore wanted consistency in polling locations following that contract.
  • Swanson: I don’t understand how cutting back will work.
    • We are opening 23 for 2020.


Cindy Richter, Wharton County Clerk

  • We went from 12 voting centers down to 8.
  • One plus of a voting center is that you can vote anywhere.
  • The ability to vote at any location helps farmers who work across the county.
  • We lost two locations to Harvey.
  • Finding new locations to replace them is difficult.
  • We dropped the number of locations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we dropped the number of machines.
  • It is hard to find and train poll workers.
  • We went from DRE machines to express vote.
  • We used it in this May election and people seemed to like it.


Chase Bearden, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities

  • It is important for individuals with disabilities’ rights to be respected in polling center.
  • As we move forward, we try and train our members on test machines.
  • A major component is ensuring polling centers are set up to accommodate people with disabilities.
  • Training for voting center workers is also very important.
  • Comparing signatures on a voter registration card to the signature on a vote is difficult for our community.
  • Cortez: What is your experience with curbside voting?
    • Some of our members have difficulty contacting someone to initiate that process.
    • For other members it has worked greatly.
  • Cortez: Do you feel the education on curbside voting is significant?
    • There needs to be more education.
  • Cortez: You would recommend better education on curbside voting?
    • A lot of time it’s not just the disabled community, but the ageing too.
  • Cortez: Do you know of any issues veterans are having with elections?
    • They are similar to ours.
  • Burrows: I want to thank you for your advocacy.
  • Swanson: Thank you for what you do.


Lillie Schechter, Harris County Democratic Party

  • We are thrilled with the work of our county clerk and her team.
  • We have received positive feedback from our election judges that the county wide voting program has enabled more people to vote.


Paul Simpson, Harris County Republican Party

  • Thank you for your committee’s work.
  • I recommend the committee look at potential legislation concerning county wide voting centers.
  • Concerning the allocation of voting centers, whoever controls the allocation of voting centers can game the system.
  • The equipment Harris County has deployed is not compliant with legislation.
  • Equipment was designed for early voting centers.
  • The system is not capable of handling 700 polling centers.
  • Code should require the Secretary of State to periodically review the system.
  • The inevitable reduction of polling places, allowed by the election code, is frightening.
  • The reduction of polling places will make it harder for people to vote.
  • The disadvantages to voters outweigh the minimal benefit of county wide voting.
  • Cortez: You’re saying you do not support county wide voting centers?
    • The concept is great, but it has superficial appeal.
  • Cortez: It’s the same process for early voting. How is that different?
    • That’s the superficial appeal.
  • Cortez: How is that superficial?
    • It would be great to vote near your work. The problem getting the equipment to work.
  • Cortez: So its not superficial because its good to vote in a place more convenient to you.
    • If the technology doesn’t work, its superficial.
  • Cortez: How is the technology different in a center than a precinct?
    • Each center must know if someone has voted somewhere else.
    • You do not have to know that in precinct voting.
    • The law requires that every poll book show in real time that every person has voted.
  • Cortez: Harris County does not have the technology to handle an election day?
    • Early voting is not comparable to election day.
    • Legislation is about anticipating what will happen in the future.
  • Cortez: I trust the county commissioners will be ethical in selecting voting locations.
  • Burrows: I think you’re onto something. There is a political emphasis on these center’s locations.
  • Swanson: You gave some detailed and informative information to us. I hope that each county will be fair in their selection of locations.
  • Israel: Who was testing the system?
    • This was testimony from workers we received.


Diane Trautman, Harris County Clerk

  • All 757 voting locations were unanimously approved by all four precincts and commissioners.
  • They would have said something if they believed their precinct were not represented.
  • Fierro: Are all of the commissioners from the same party?
    • No, they are not.
  • Cortez: I’m glad you clarified that it was a bipartisan vote that all county commissioners approved.


Michael Winn, Harris County Elections Administrator

  • Of the two voters that voted twice in Harris County, their names were flagged in our system.
  • One of those two did so out of confusion concerning the proper location to cast his ballot.
  • Our MP70 program was implemented to address this problem.
  • We have processes in place that identify our next steps should this become a serious problem.


Keith Ingram, Texas Secretary of State

  • The county wide program began as a pilot program in 2005.
  • The first county to pilot was Lubbock and they have used it since.
  • More counties were allowed to participate following the next legislative session.
  • Up to six counties, over 100,000, can participate in a particular election and four, under 100,000.
  • Counties declared successful do not count against that 6 and 4 cap.
  • This November we’ll have 60 successful counties, with 9 doing it for the first time.
  • 73% of Texas voters will have access to county wide voting.
  • Currently, elected county clerks don’t have to contract with entities in their county.
  • In a November election, the entity holding an election must share polling places whether or not they’ve contracted with that county clerk.
  • There is a dramatic increase in cost of that election due to this.
  • I suggest the legislature think about requiring county clerks that want to go county wide to contract with the entities that want to contract with them.
  • Israel: What is the largest county that has done voting centers for a presidential cycle?
    • Travis County.
  • Israel: What are some others?
    • Galveston and Brazoria have been using it successfully.
  • Israel: What is the county wide review process?
    • An application is sent.
    • Commissioner’s Court sends us their data on public hearings and dissent.
    • A plan must be submitted regarding bilingual election clerks and polling locations.
  • Israel: What is the process like in your office?
    • Once the application is in, there is a back and forth between us and the county.
  • Israel: Harris County is ready to go?
    • We understand Harris is reviewing the concerns heard today.
  • Burrows: If someone complained that the makeup is driven by partisan politics, what would you do?
    • If a candidate feels they lost an election because of this, they could use that to challenge the results.
  • Cortez: Can you speak to the Secretary of State’s signing off on technology being used?
    • Historically an E-Poll book is required.
    • With the advent of HB 4130, poll books are certified with us annually.
  • Swanson: HB 4130 requires poll books be able to keep a record.
    • HB 4130 goes into effect September 1.
    • This report has been added to the poll books since then.


Public Testimony


Thomas Cortmus, Self

  • We have a primary in March.
  • No one has touched on this issue yet.
  • The Republican party has rejected county wide voting for our primary.
  • Under county wide we cannot see who has voted in a caucus.
  • County wide is not a complete idea yet.
  • It needs to be addressed, otherwise we will have a real mess come primary day.


Edgar Saldivar, ACLU Texas

  • One of the most frequent concerns we heard was confusion about where to vote.
  • The solution is simple, county wide polling locations allow voters to cast their ballot at the center most convenient for them.
  • Voters can also bypass locations with long lines and find one that is shorter.


William Wilson, Self

  • I was an election clerk in northwest Harris County.
  • I observed the lack of timely update to the pollbooks.
  • After a WIFI booster was installed, speed increased.
  • We ran tests to see if you could vote at one polling locations and go to another to vote again.
  • Our tests proved you could.


Pankde Patel, Self

  • I support Harris County’s implementation of county wide voting centers.
  • My experience counseling voters has demonstrated that precinct voting has decreased turnout.


Vincent Sanders, Self

  • It has pained me to tell voters they could not vote at our precinct.
  • How would you feel if you were in my position?


Tequila Chapman, Self

  • County wide voting helps everyone who is eligible to vote have access to vote.
  • I ask you to support county wide voting.


Susan Pritzker, Self

  • In recent years, Texas has closed more polling locations than any other state.
  • I encourage the committee to consider limits on the number of polling locations a county may close.


Shawn Marovera, Self

  • The State of Texas has never shown interest in increasing voter turnout.
  • Instead they focus on voter fraud boogeyman rhetoric.


Cindy Wetherby, League of Women Voters

  • We want to reiterate our support for county wide voting throughout the state.
  • With so many counties offering county wide polling places, we have 13 years now of experience.


Glen Maxey, Texas Democratic Party

  • Voter fraud is almost non-existent in the state.
  • We need to ensure E-Poll books sync up, but that should not prevent the implementation of county wide voting centers.


Emily Eby, Texas Civil Rights Project

  • County wide polling helps voters get to a polling place more convenient to them.


Beth Stevens, Texas Civil Rights Project

  • Reductions in the number of polling locations are not at all required, but allowed.
  • If this legislative body wants to work on the number of locations cut, raise the minimum percentage when they move to county wide voting.


Ali Lozano, Texas Civil Rights Project

  • Countywide polling is the solution to several common problems
  • Studies have shown a variety of positive benefits from increased access to voting


Fatima Menendez, MALDEF

  • MALDEF is strongly in favor in countywide voting if all polling locations remain open
  • Current law only requires counties to adopt methodology to place polling locations, these policies should be reviewed to not have an adverse impact on certain populations
  • Availability of public transportation should be considered for polling locations
  • Cortez: So mass transportation in order to get to the polling site?
    • Yes, made recommendations to Bexar County Commissioners Court to keep polling locations with access to public transport open
  • Israel: In looking at Harris County info, there was an election date travel study; would appreciate your thoughts on this, so many are dependent on mass transit