Election 2020

Harris County Sets New Voter Turnout Record, Surpassing 2016 Numbers

The previous record of 1,338,898 was set in 2016. There is still one day of early voting left before Election Day.

Signs which will be posted at Harris County polling sites are lined up at election headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Houston.

Updated 1:16 a.m. CT Friday

Harris County voters set a new all-time turnout record, surpassing the county's 2016 total late Thursday night with one day of early voting left to go before Election Day, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said.

Around 10 p.m., Hollins told a crowd outside the NRG Park 24-hour voting location that voters had broken the all-time record turnout of 1,338,898, set during the last presidential election.

At 1 a.m. Friday, the clerk's office announced a total of 1,344,915 votes have been counted, though the number was continuing to grow amid 24-hour voting.

On Thursday alone, Hollins' office tallied more than 69,000 in-person votes, and a total of 5,460 mail-in ballots.

Hollins’ announcement was met by a chorus of car horns, during a drive-in concert to kick off 24-hour voting, headlined by Bun B and the Suffers.

Polls were open for 24 hours Thursday at eight locations across Harris County, including the NRG Park location. It was just one of the changes implemented by the county to encourage turnout during the election. Other initiatives included drive-thru voting, new polling sites and more voting machines.

Those changes came with unprecedented spending. In total, Harris County spent about $31 million on this year's election. That's more than seven times as much as it spent in 2016, according to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

RELATED | Harris County Is Breaking Early Voting Records. Here Are 4 Takeaways

More than half of that was spent on increasing voting locations, hours and personnel. Another $315,000 was spent on COVID-19 precautions at the polls, including PPE for poll workers and additional sanitizing for voting booths. And roughly $8 million was spent on mail-in balloting.

Hollins has said he expects to see results on election night, no matter how long they take to tally.

The county’s attempts to expand access to the polls were met with pushback. Texas Republicans attempted to throw up roadblocks against some of Harris County’s changes, including an order from Gov. Greg Abbott issued to limit mail-in ballot drop-off locations to just one per county. Harris County and Travis County — which had 12 and four such locations, respectively — were forced to reduce their numbers.

The latest GOP challenge came on Wednesday when Republicans filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court to challenge thousands of drive-thru votes, calling it an illegal expansion of curbside voting. That petition is still in front of the court.

Justices previously outright rejected a similar petition, allowing drive-thru voting to continue.

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Paul DeBenedetto

Senior Producer

Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior web producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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