Harris County Election officials ‘pivoting‘ ahead of new election law changes

Residents wondering how the voting process is changing
Residents wondering how the voting process is changing

HOUSTON – How to vote in Texas is a hot topic of conversation, especially since the 2020 election.

Members of the Harris County Elections Office are concerned that recent headlines from State Senate Bill 1 named the “Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021″ could deter people from showing up to the polls or even registering to vote.

At Moody Park on the northside of Houston, volunteers with the Women League of Voters Houston spent Tuesday helping people register to vote.

More than 200 volunteers participated around Houston for National Voter Registration Day.

Volunteer Deputy Registrar Niki Hays said she lives nearby in the Heights, which she says historically has more voter turnout compared to the northside. She said Tuesday’s efforts aren’t just about getting people registered to vote, it’s about motivating more people to be a part of the political process.

“Get them politically motivated, involved, and therefore to the polls when the time comes,” Hays said.

In 2020, Harris County saw a record number of registered voters, a 4.7 percent increase compared to 2018.

“The numbers are holding strong,” Beth Stevens, Chief Director of Voting for Harris County said.

Stevens said now her office is in “pivot” mode after the passing of Senate Bill 1 named the “Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021.”

“It took aim at Harris County directly,” she said.

Stevens said key changes include:

  • a ban on drive-thru voting
  • a penalty for sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications
  • adds an ID requirement for mail-in voting
  • a ban on 24-hour voting

Stevens said the election’s office is coming up with new ways to expand access.

“Having more locations is a thing we can still do that’s still within in the law and we know it helps people vote,” she explained.

She said their office has hired new workers whose sole job is to get people registered to vote.

“The state legislature decided to do that and we can’t undo it,” Stevens said. “But we can continue to provide that access and that education to voters that we hope will balance it out.”

The law goes into effect in December of 2021, so it will not impact the Nov. 2 general election.