We will have a joint primary this year

This solves a problem we had only begun to realize we had.

Harris County Republicans and Democrats plan to hold a joint election during the upcoming March primaries after years of the parties conducting separate contests, County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth announced Sunday.

Although the measure must still be approved by the Commissioners Court, voters who want to cast their ballots in either of the parties’ primary elections on March 5 can do so in common precincts with the same voting equipment in a first for the county, Hudspeth said.

March’s joint contests should mean a smoother Election Day for voters.

“For Democratic and Republican primary voters, this year’s joint aspect of the Election Day voting process will be familiar,” Hudspeth said in a statement Sunday. “It is the same voting process used for years in the conduct of early voting during Primary Elections, and it is the same Election Day voting process used when voting in a November election.”

The agreement was spurred by Senate Bill 924, a newly enacted state law that requires Harris County to open significantly more polling sites than it historically has on primary day. Hudspeth, the county’s chief elections officer, sounded the alarm to the Commissioners Court this month and warned that her office would not have enough workers or machines to run separate primaries without facing major hurdles.

Without joint elections, Harris County would have had to go from about 375 polling sites during the most recent primaries to at least 512 under the new law, Hudspeth told the Commissioners Court Jan. 9.


Cindy Siegel, the Harris County Republican Party chair, argued after Hudspeth’s comments to the Commissioners Court that the county’s history of running split elections should not be changed.

But in a statement Sunday, Siegel said the party agreed to hold a joint primary election in Harris County for the first time after reviewing SB 947 and consulting the Texas Secretary of State’s elections division.

“This decision was not made lightly, but … we had no other option,” she said. “We will work with the clerk’s office to have a successful primary election, and we plan on maintaining as much control over our election as possible through ongoing negotiations with all stakeholders over the next couple of days.”

Lots of background material on this one: Here’s the County Clerk press release announcing the joint primary. Here’s Commissioner Adrian Garcia’s press release calling out Republicans for not being willing to contribute to the solution, which was from last week, around the time that Chron story in which Clerk Hudspeth explained the issue was published. Here’s SB924, which I’ll get into in a minute. The story references SB947 but I think that must be a typo as SB947 is a criminal code bill.

The story itself is straightforward enough: The effect of SB924 is that Harris County will have to operate more polling places on Primary Day, which it would have had a hard time handling. What was not explained was how and why SB924 enabled those requirements. Looking at the text of the bill, the gist is that while counties used to have the discretion to combine precincts with fewer than 500 registered voters, that discretion is now gone for counties with at least 1.2 million people. Fewer combined precincts + the need for two sets of voting machines at each location = more locations than we could have handled with the voting machines we now have.

The Republicans in the previous story sniffed that this was the fault of the Democratic-controlled Commissioners Court for not buying enough machines. I would agree that we should buy more of them now, but this law was just passed and only went into effect on September 1. It’s not like we can just order new machines from Amazon and have them up and running immediately – among other things, they need to be certified first. I don’t know what the SOS said to Cindy Siegel, but it got her on board with the joint primary solution, so we have that going for us.

Three points of interest that I would have liked to see the story address: One, this law also affects Dallas, Bexar, Tarrant, and Travis Counties, and if it doesn’t affect Collin County (population 1.158 million as of March 30, 2023), it will very soon. Denton County will follow in a few years, Fort Bend and Hidalgo a few years after that, and from there we’ll see. It would be interesting to know how they are dealing with this. Two, this was apparently a fairly partisan bill – it passed on third reading on a straight party-line vote in the Senate and a mostly but not entirely party-line vote in the House. The Dems who supported it included the likes of Reps. Rafael Anchia, Ana Hernandez, and Gene Wu, which makes me think there must be some objective reason for it. I assume the partisan reason for it is that it targeted the big urban counties, but that’s my supposition. Again, it would be nice to know more. And three, since we have a lot more than 512 precincts, I assume there’s a reason why we needed that many voting locations. The law that governs polling places in counties that use voting centers is this one, and my eyes glazed over before I made it out of the first sub-section. Again, more information, in the form of quoting some voting experts, would have been nice.

Anyway. Now you know what I know, or at least what I think I know, about this. We’ll see how it plays out in practice. As a dedicated early vote person, I’ll need to hear someone else’s account of that.

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3 Responses to We will have a joint primary this year

  1. Doris L Murdock says:

    I see claims of fraud, faulty voting machine switching votes, etc. on the horizon.

  2. Charly Hoarse says:

    When I played Poll Judge for multiple precincts we sometimes had our Primary right beside that of the Tory Party and it was no problem. It did make it easier for those that showed up at the wrong place; they could pick out the tables where the old ladies were wearing all the flag swag.

  3. Frederick says:

    Lying claims of fraud will happen no matter the circumstance.

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