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That’s a lot of mail ballots

The new County Clerk isn’t messing around.

Harris County this week sent mail ballot applications for the July primary runoff to every voter 65 and older, interim County Clerk Christopher Hollins announced.

The move comes as Harris County is preparing for a significant expansion of mail voting during the novel coronavirus pandemic as some residents are wary of voting at potentially crowded polling sites.

Hollins, who started Monday after being appointed to replace former clerk Diane Trautman, said he wants to provide a safe avenue for voting amid the pandemic. Hollins sent applications to 376,840 voters, about 16 percent of the voter roll.

“Our goal is to keep our voters 65 and up safe amid the current health crisis by giving them the opportunity to vote from home,” Hollins said in a statement Thursday.

This is the first time the clerk’s office has sent mail ballot applications to voters. unsolicited. Previously, voters had to request one on their own. The mailer cost $210,000, Hollins spokeswoman Rosio Torres-Segura said.

You can see a copy of the Clerk’s statement here. There’s a prissy quote in the story from Paul Bettencourt, who Does Not Approve of spending money to make it easier for people to vote. That’s really what this is. That $200K is small potatoes compared to the $12 million the Clerk’s office was allocated for November election prep. At the very least, we’ll get some idea of who has an undeliverable address, who wound up voting that likely wouldn’t have otherwise, and just how hard it is to pull something like this off. That’s a useful thing to know for November, when the pressure will be much higher.

To me, if there’s any objection in sending a mail ballot to every over-65 person in the county, it’s that you can’t do something similar for everyone else. This highlights the age discrimination aspect of Texas’ absentee ballot law. The point of voting by mail is that it’s a convenience. It makes voting easier. Not everyone will want or need to use it – like I said, I plan to vote in person in July and (barring anything unforeseen at this point) in November as well. I like voting in person, and I believe I can do it in a fairly low-risk manner, based on time and location. There are legitimate concerns about voting by mail as an entire replacement for in person voting, and doing a mass change like this without a ton of prep work is extremely risky. But there were around 100K mail ballots returned in both the 2016 and 2018 elections, so going from that to sending out 376K ballots isn’t much of a stretch. This is about making it easier for people to vote. The objections should be seen in that light.

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4 Comments

  1. voter_worker says:

    The article states “every voter” 65 or over was sent a mail ballot application. Are we to take this literally to mean that suspense status voter were sent an application? Those are registered voters no longer residing at their address of registration, and the list of those voters is currently as accurate as it gets because in January the VR sent out new voter certificates and all the returns would have been processed by now.

  2. Wolfgang says:

    UNIVERSAL AND NON-DISCRIMINATORY PROMOTION OF VOTING BY MAIL IS THE BETTER APPROACH

    Although I would favor allowing every voter to choose whether to vote from home, from a public policy perspective, the approach taken by the new County Clerk is a good one within the current legal constraints. It is preferable for this effort to be PUBLICLY FUNDED and UNIVERSAL, rather than being undertaken by the political parties (or candidates’ campaigns) because it will be nondiscriminatory and more efficient.

    Political parties would naturally have a bias and incentive to reach out only those voters likely to vote for them to facilitate use of the option to vote by mail. Same for specific candidates. Mailing every registered voter 65 years and older an application may cost more in terms of printing and mailing, but will obviate the need to employ resources for research geared to discriminate among voters for purposes of targeting.

  3. […] we know what Harris County has done. (Note: That was mail ballot applications the Clerk sent to all over-65 voters, not actual […]

  4. […] Yes, but as we’ve discussed before, context matters. There will be significant dropoff, no doubt about it, but the contested Senate primary runoff suggests that the floor for statewide turnout is higher than usual. Prepare for there to be more people than usual for a primary runoff, that’s my advice. Of course, some higher percentage of that turnout may come from mail ballots. […]