Harris Co officials announce changes to election process
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis (left) and Harris County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum (right) announce changes to the election process for the upcoming midterm elections. Photo by Ashley Brown / Houston Public Media.

After thousands of mail-in-ballots were rejected in Harris County during the March primaries, Harris County officials are working to ensure residents are educated and that they have the confidence to cast their ballots in the November 8th election.

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Harris County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum held a press conference on Monday at the Harris County Election Central Count Location to discuss changes Harris County officials are making for a smooth voting process.

“In 2021, Texas passed Senate Bill one, one of the most restrictive voter laws in the nation, adding significant hurdles to the vote by mail process,” Ellis said.

Senate Bill 1 was signed into law last year in September – changing the ID requirements for eligible voters that choose to vote by mail. The new law requires Texans to provide either their Texas ID or Social Security number on both the application and the return ballot carrier envelope; whichever number the voter chooses to use must match the voter records.

As previously reported by Houston Public Media, confusion on the new ID requirements from Senate Bill 1 led to 6,888 mail ballots being rejected out of the 36,878 mail ballots received in time for the 2022 primary.

Tatum said they’re working with an election task force for ballot security and adding more support to the mail-in ballot team and more early voting locations.

“We also encourage our voters to understand what their rights are, what their responsibilities are as it relates to casting a ballot and knowing, arming themselves, arming our voters with the right information.”

Other changes the county is implementing are upgrades to its voting machines, revamping its training program for judges, offering voter knowledge events and conducting in-person demonstrations on how to use the new voting machines.

The county is currently training 1,600 judges and they’re looking for a total of 6,000 election workers. Currently the county has 5,000 election workers and they’re looking for more.

The county has 22 outreach coordinators in every commissioners court precinct at different reaction centers, county facilities and private facilities to teach voters how to use the new machines and conduct Q&A’s.

“We’re seeing a lot of virtual interaction with our voters and virtual interaction is good as it relates to sharing information,” said Tatum. “But actually putting your hands on the machines is really what we want our voters to turn out to do, and to feel comfortable with how the machine works and what they’re expected to do on election day.”

Commissioner Ellis said the county is working to make sure voters will be able to cast ballots without confusion in the upcoming election.

“Harris County is committed to ensuring that every eligible voter is able to freely cast their ballot, ” he said. ”We’re doing our part to fight voter suppression and remove obstacles where we can under the law.”

The Election Administrator’s Office reported that 19% of the ballots in the March primaries were rejected due to Senate Bill 1 compared to 0.3% in the 2018 primary election.

Harris County officials said they’ve already processed over 66,000 mail-in ballot applications and they want to ensure the same problems won’t happen in November.

The last day for eligibility to apply for a mail-in ballot is October 28.

Tatum said to prepare for the election, the county has set up over 99 early voting locations starting October 24-November 4 and there will be 782 polling locations open on election day November 8.