With a record 2,431,457 registered voters on the rolls in Harris County, there were several reasons poll workers expected a huge turnout and they got it, but not on Election Day.
Two judges working two of the locations in northwest Harris County with the largest turnouts in the county both saw voters take advantage of extra days and utilize extended hours for voting.
“It was impressive the number of people who turned out,” said John Baucum who served as precinct judge at the city of Jersey Village location.
Harris County set a record for the total number of voters ever participating in an election with 1,649,573 casting ballots, but it fell just shy in the percentage of registered voters who showed up at the polls with 67.84 percent.
The last time a presidential race garnered more than 70 percent of the voters in Harris County was in 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated incumbent President George W. Bush. At least 71.68 percent or 942,636 of the 1,315,010 registered voters cast their vote in the election.
While the voter rolls have increased almost twice that number since 1992, participation seems to be on an uptick and so is early voting.
“Yes, it’s the most voters we’ve ever had,” confirmed Roxanne Werner, director of community relations for Harris County Clerk Chris Collins.
Baucum said he believed the process in his precinct was fair.
“Voting day, when they come into that center, you want them to know that their vote counts, that the process was fair, and their ballot was in secret. I think as a team we make sure that it happens,” he said.
Baucum was grateful for his staff who worked tirelessly to ensure a fair election.
One of the difficulties with staffing, especially on election day, is securing rare interpreters.
“We have to be prepared for any voter to walk in,” he said. “Before countywide voting, we would have a Spanish and English interpreter, and maybe in southwest Houston you might have had a Chinese or Vietnamese interpreter, now we’re required to have all of them. We were able to have all of those plus one of our clerks spoke Portuguese and German,” he said. “We were probably overprepared.”
“Those are the challenges you see with countywide voting. We’ve been able to find the people to fill those spots,” he said.
For Matt Harris, serving as an alternate judge for the Richard and Meg Weekley Community Center was exciting since the location led the county in early voting with 29,810.
“This was my first time. It was an interesting experience. I’m glad I did it and I’ll probably continue to do it,” he said. “I think it’s important for my age group to be involved in the process.”
The 38-year-old moved to Texas from Illinois a decade ago in search of job opportunities.
“My wife graduated from college right after the recession hit Illinois really hard. We tried things there for a while, but nothing panned out,” he said.
They pulled up roots and moved to the Houston area where they found 30-40 postings for her job versus only two or three for the same in Illinois.
He took the training for being a precinct judge twice.
“Originally I was scheduled to work the primaries in March and didn’t get to and did the training a second time which was very helpful,” he said.
He also received a reference manual which provided invaluable information for judges.
He said the Weekley Center has been a voting location for at least the 10 years he’s lived in the area.
Until he moved to Texas, he really wasn’t involved in politics so much.
“I always pushed it to the side because it’s (Illinois) always been a blue state and I’m conservative,” he said.
As we now know, final turnout was 1,656,686 after provisional ballots were cured. Both of the election workers quoted are Republicans, and as you can see they both thought the process was fair, accessible, and generally well done. It would be nice if some of our Republican leaders felt that way, too. Honestly, if the Chron wants to talk to a couple of election workers and let them tell their stories every week till we run out of them, that would be fine with me. The single best thing to come out of this election – OK, the second best thing – was the joy and enthusiasm so many people had for participating in it, for feeling like their votes mattered and their voices were heard. I’ve lived my entire life in an atmosphere of cynicism and detachment towards our democracy, and this is the first time I can recall it being more cool to be into it than to be sarcastic about it. It’s better this way.