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County Attorney’s Office prepared for first day of early voting

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan announced today that his office is prepared to ensure the safety and security of the July 14th primary runoff election as early voting begins today.

“For each election, our office works with the County Clerk and other agencies to make sure all voters are able to cast their ballots, whether in-person or by mail, without intimidation, coercion or fraud,” said County Attorney Ryan. “This is also the first election since the COVID-19 pandemic began, so the County had the added responsibility of keeping voters and poll workers safe at polling locations.”

The July 14th runoff election will decide races in the Democratic and Republican primaries. Early voting will take place from today, June 29, through Thursday, July 2, and then picks up after the holiday from Sunday, July 5, through Friday, July 10. There are 57 early voting locations in Harris County and hours have been extended. Voters can cast ballots at any location. (For more information, visit www.harrisvotes.com.)

Additional safety precautions will be taken for in-person voting due to COVID-19. Poll workers will wear protective equipment, plexiglass shields will be in place at check-in locations, voting machines will be cleaned and voters will be given coverings for their finger so they don’t have to touch the machines. Voters will be encouraged social distance and to wear masks; they will be given a mask if they don’t have one.

It is the responsibility of the Harris County Attorney to ensure that people are not coerced or intimidated into voting for certain candidates and that those who are legitimate voters have the ability to cast their ballot. During each election, the County Attorney’s Office fields questions from the public about the required identification documents or the appropriate ballot for their precinct or complaints about intimidation by poll watchers. Attorneys and investigators from the Office will be dispatched to a location where a voter has an issue and check it out.

Any questions or complaints can be directed by voters to the Election Hotline at 713-755-6965 or to Special Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray at 281-935-1904 or email him at douglas.ray@cao.hctx.net

More people are expected to vote by mail this year due to concerns about COVID-19. Texas allows citizens to request an absentee ballot if they are over the age of 65, will be out of the county during voting, in jail but otherwise eligible to vote or have a disability, defined as a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents a citizen from voting in person without the risk of “injuring the voter’s health.” (Disability can also include pregnancy.)

The issue of whether concern about contracting the virus counts as a “disability” has been the subject of several court decisions. Special Assistant County Attorney Ray explains that the Texas Supreme Court ruled that state law says it is up to the voter: “Elected officials have placed in the hands of the voter the determination of whether in-person voting will cause the likelihood of injury due to a physical condition.”  Ray says the Supreme Court also made it clear that election officials have neither the ability nor responsibility to investigate why someone requests a mail ballot due to “disability.”

Vote by mail ballot applications have been sent to all voters 65+ years of age in Harris County who did not already have an annual ballot request on file. Ballots must be postmarked by July 14th and received no later than 5 p.m. on the 15th. In addition, voters may bring their mail ballot to the Harris County Clerk’s office at 1001 Preston, Suite 440, on Election Day before 7 p.m. with appropriate ID.

“The world has changed due to COVID-19 but our democracy must move forward with our elections,” said County Attorney Ryan. “Our constitutional right to vote for our elected officials will not be stopped by a virus. My Office stands ready to help ensure a fair election July 14th and beyond.”