By Alaina Bookman
Clifford Tatum has always wanted to work in government. After being appointed Harris County elections administrator this past August, Tatum is pushing for a more efficient and effective election in November.
Operating one of the largest jurisdictions in the country is not an easy feat. With over 16 years of election experience and 20 years in public service, Tatum said he is up for the challenge.
“It’s sort of in my blood that I’ve always been a public servant and I recognize and appreciate the results of my efforts that I put into helping any entity conduct its elections process and what it means for the voters, campaigns, candidates and the county as a whole,” Tatum said.
Senate Bill 1, a bill signed in 2021 by Republican Gov. Greg Abbot, limits the ability of voters of color in predominantly Democratic counties to cast their ballots. The legislation looms over Harris County, one of the most diverse counties in Texas. SB 1 bans voting methods that were proven popular among people of color such as overnight early voting hours and drive-thru voting.
“As you talk about voter suppression, the question becomes, are we educating the voters enough so that they understand what their rights are and understand what the election process is all about so that they recognize what they can and can’t do,” Tatum said.
Much of Tatum’s job as elections administrator is ensuring that elections are fair and accessible and that voters are educated about their rights. Getting the word out about election dates, locations and methods to educate voters on how to cast a ballot are a few of the goals Tatum hopes to achieve.
With the November election weeks away, Tatum’s daily routine is a whirlwind of meetings, emails, telephone calls, interviews and voting machine tests to prepare. In a process that takes months to bring together, Tatum delegates responsibilities for countless departments from ballot coders, who create the voting ballots, to outreach and operations teams who help to keep things running smoothly on election day.
“My first focus is to prepare to conduct the November election in the most efficient and effective manner possible,” Tatum said. “I am conducting an assessment of every division and asking questions and understanding what it is we do, and understanding how we do it, and understanding why we do it the way we do it.”
Tatum said his short-term goals for the November election include “small tweaks” like increasing signage at polling locations and strengthening training for precinct judges to set up voting machines. Such seemingly small actions will make for a better election day.
“From those assessments, we’re able to identify what could be some efficiencies added into the process and identify some overlaps, some redundancies that aren’t necessary for the success of the election,” Tatum said.
Harris County’s outreach program educates voters on what their options are to cast their ballot which includes submitting a mail-in ballot, showing up for early voting at one of 99 early locations or voting on election day at any of the 782 locations.
Tatum has also hired a professional communications firm to assist with distributing that message through different media outlets to ensure that voters understand what the election looks like leading up to election day. Local advocates and interest groups are also involved in Tatum’s plan to get voters to the polls.
“We’re always looking to innovate. And we can only innovate as much as the voters are willing to accept in what will be useful and helpful for the voters,” Tatum said. “Just knowing that my activities are helping voters with access to the ballot and casting their vote is inspiring to me and I appreciate and I recognize my role in that.”
About Clifford Tatum
- Principal, ECLS Consulting, Washington, D.C.
- General counsel, U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Silver Springs, Md.
- Executive director, District of Columbia Board of Elections
- Interim director, Georgia State Elections Division
- Juris Doctorate, Western Michigan University Thomas Cooley Law School
- Administration of Justice Degree, Guilford College