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Election 2020

5 Election Takeways From The Houston Area

Democrats across Texas didn’t make the gains they hoped they would, and that was the case in the Houston area as well.


Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Eleciton workers prepares to count ballots at NRG Park on election night in Houston, Nov. 3, 2020.

Election Day has come and gone, and while the presidential race isn’t yet over, there’s lots we know about the election’s impact right here in Houston.

Harris County broke turnout records, with 1.6 million total voters, almost 68% turnout among registered voters. It had already shattered voting totals at the close of early voting — and on Election Day, people continued to turn out in strong numbers. County officials are taking some of the credit, since Harris County Commissioners Court allocated about $31 million in funding to expand voting access during COVID-19, which included drive-thru voting, expanded early voting and 24-hour voting.

And Fort Bend County, which surpassed 70% voter turnout by about 1 p.m., broke all of its previous records, county officials said.

Here are five takeaways from election night.

Republicans held their ground

While state Democrats hoped to make big gains in Texas and the region, that didn’t happen. Democrats failed to flip most of the seats they had targeted. Several of the races, including Texas' 2nd, 10th and 22nd Congressional districts, had gained national attention. But Republican candidates in those races all held onto their seats with wide margins.

In the state House of Representatives, Democrats targeted 22 seats in total, and needed a net nine seats to gain control of the chamber. Instead, they very likely lost one seat.

"I think the fact that the numbers are going more towards us compared to 2018, which is what a lot of Democrats were using as their gauge to say that we were in trouble, says that our economics is working, our policies are working," said Republican political analyst Jacquie Baly.

Harris County Commissioners had been hoping to gain a supermajority on Commissioners Court. But Republican Tom Ramsey won that race with about 52% of the vote. And in Pearland, Republican-backed Kevin Cole won the race for mayor, replacing 95-year-old Tom Reid, who held the position for most of the past 42 years.

But a moderate Houston Republican lost her seat

Despite a disappointing evening, Texas Democrats did flip one high-profile seat: the 134th Texas House District, held by GOP State Rep. Sarah Davis.

In the only confirmed seat to flip for Democrats, Houston’s Davis, one of the most moderate members of the Texas GOP, conceded to Democratic challenger Ann Johnson.

The 134th District, which Davis has represented since 2010, has been an outlier in past elections, turning out in large numbers for Beto O'Rourke and Hillary Clinton but continuing to elect the Republican Davis, in part because of her support for abortion rights and LGBT issues. But Davis has also taken a hard line on immigration issues, co-sponsoring the controversial Senate Bill 4 that banned sanctuary cities in Texas.

In 2016, Beto O'Rourke carried Davis’ district by more than 20 percentage points, and her race was near the top of the list for the state Democratic party to flip.

Voting went smoothly

The 2020 midterm election in Houston was a disaster: broken machines and long lines led to accusations of voter suppression.

But that wasn’t the case on Election Day. With an additional week of early voting and increased investment from the county, lines on Tuesday were short and moved swiftly, as more than 200,000 people showed up to vote in person.

That was good news for people at the Freeman Branch Library polling location, where Tracey Cao, a Vietnamese immigrant, was first in line to vote. She said being an immigrant was what drove her to vote in every election.

Cao said she traveled back from Atlanta, Georgia, just to vote in person on Election Day.

"I don't know, maybe my mail gets lost," Cao said. "Make sure my vote is cast."

Shifting demographics weren’t enough for Democrats

One of the races to watch was in Fort Bend County, where Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni was hoping to flip a long-held Republican congressional seat. Kulkarni had last run in 2018 against U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, who’d held the seat since 2009, and lost by just 5 points. This year, Olson decided not to run, and Democrats hoped they would be the ones to fill the empty seat on the strength of an increasingly diverse electorate — Fort Bend County is one of the most ethnically diverse in the nation, and one of the fastest growing.

Instead, Republicans prevailed in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, with Sheriff Troy Nehls beating Kulkarni, despite the Democrat spending nearly three times more on his campaign.

GOP candidates also won three of the county's state representative seats.

Fort Bend County’s Democratic county judge, K.P. George, blamed gerrymandering for Tuesday’s mixed results.

"The county was voting more than 5-6% to the Democratic side, even in 2018 also, but these gerrymandered districts are not, didn't flip as expected," he said.

Fort Bend County elected its first Black sheriff in 150 years

If there was a bright spot for Fort Bend County Democrats, it was that they took three of the countywide contests, where gerrymandering was not a factor. Those included the race for sheriff, which was vacated by Nehls as he ran for Congress.

The Republican running to replace him: his twin brother, Trever Nehls.

But despite the name recognition, Fort Bend County made history by electing its first Black sheriff since Reconstruction, according to the Houston Chronicle — and the first Democrat since the 1990s.

Democrat Eric Fagan, a former Houston police officer, ran on a promise of requiring body cameras for his deputies and better community policing. He’ll have the chance to make those changes on Jan. 1.

Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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