By Charlotte Aguilar
Oh, we’re missing the good old, simple days of showing up on Election Day at your assigned polling place. You marked your selections, dropped your ballot in a box, and walked out with a sense of pride in having fulfilled your duty. That voting ethic might have been instilled by military veterans in your family or parents who’d lived through wartime and the depression, and it was reinforced in your high school civics class.
In our urban setting, even in the highest-stakes elections, many no longer feel that duty. Those simpler election procedures have been disappearing one by one, too, in the name of convenience — longer voting periods, more locations, automation. And this year a pandemic has created fear about the safety of voting, while there are other concerns ranging from voter fraud to voter suppression.
The result is a longer voting period throughout Texas, starting Oct. 13, an emphasis on mail-in balloting for those who qualify, and more locations and ways to vote during the early voting period and on Election Day, including drive-thru and 24-hour options.
If you haven’t registered, sorry — the deadline was Oct. 5. There’s still time, though, for qualified, registered voters (see below) who want to apply for a mail-in ballot to do so.
The best repository of all things pertaining to the election and voting is HarrisVotes.com. Operated by the Harris County Clerk’s Office, it has deadlines, regulations and procedures, early voting and Election Day locations with interactive maps, and offers a customized sample ballot if you supply the address you listed to register.
Here’s our overview of voting in the general election:
- Oct. 13-30: Early voting
- Oct. 23: Last day to turn in mail ballot application
- Nov. 3: Election Day
VOTE BY MAIL
Those who fought for expanding mail-in balloting during the pandemic ultimately lost, so the rules stay the same as in the past — it’s open to those 65 and older or disabled, those in jail, and anyone who will be out of the county on Election Day. You can apply for a ballot on the HarrisVotes.com website as long as the application is received by Oct. 23.
Now to cast that ballot: With the U.S. Postal Service notoriously slow and inefficient these days (we’ll stay out of the politics of that here), those voting by mail are urged to follow directions on the ballot and send it in as early as possible.
You can drop off your ballot in person at the county’s election center at NRG Stadium seven days a week with proper I.D. Check the HarrisVotes.com website for directions and hours.
Gov. Greg Abbott advanced and extended the early voting period by a week, and the county has expanded the number of sites to 122, including several near West University and Bellaire or convenient to employment centers.
In addition to the old standby, the Bayland Park Community Center auditorium, 6400 Bissonnet St., west of Bellaire, the early voting locations of most interest to our readers include:
- Drive-thru and in-person at HCC West Loop South campus, 5601 West Loop South.
- The football stadium at Rice University, 2050 University Blvd.
- The John P. McGovern Texas Medical Center Commons, 1st floor food court, 6550 Bertner Ave.
- Both drive-thru and in-person (in Arena Hall D) balloting at the NRG Complex, 1 NRG Parkway.
- And downtown sites at the Toyota Center (drive-thru and in-person), 1501 Polk St., and the County Attorney Conference Center, 1019 Congress Ave.
- 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday Oct. 13-17, Monday through Saturday Oct. 19-24, Monday Oct. 26 and Friday, Oct. 30
- 12-7 p.m. Sunday Oct. 18 and Sunday Oct. 25
- 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday Oct. 29
On Oct. 29, seven locations — including NRG Arena and the McGovern TMC Commons — will be open 24 hours for voting.
A pilot drive-thru voting program at Houston Community College West Loop campus by the Harris County Clerk during the primary runoff was successful enough that the clerk is offering it during early voting and on Election Day. The HCC West Loop location is up-and-running again, and the voting-super center at NRG Arena will be the other closest location to West U and Bellaire, with the Toyota Center offering downtown voters the drive-thru option.
Voters are handed a mask, finger protection and a sanitary wipe along with a machine to cast their ballot. Workers with protective gear handle the transaction and wipe down the machine after each use. Check the HarrisVotes.com website for hours and directions.
Just as with early voting, you can now vote at any Harris County polling place on Election Day. Still, if you want to stay in the neighborhood or vote your home precinct, most of the traditional West University and Bellaire locations are on board for voting on Nov. 3.
That includes Bellaire City Hall, the West U Community Building; Southside Place Park clubhouse, West U Elementary School, West University Scout House, Faith Lutheran Church; Pin Oak, Pershing and Lanier middle schools; ChristChurch Presbyterian, St. Andrew’s Church, Sheltering Arms Community Center, the Courtyard by Marriott on Westpark, the Girl Scouts San Jacinto Council headquarters on the Southwest Freeway; Roberts, River Oaks and Lovett elementary schools, and Lamar HS.