Q&A: Changes made for Harris County voters during 2020 primary election


HOUSTON – Harris County voters could notice several changes during the 2020 primary election that might make casting their ballots easier, according to County Clerk Diane Trautman.

Officials in the county clerk's office simulated a working polling station Monday to give commissioners, election judges and the media a glimpse at a new election setup Trautman hopes to bring to fruition next year. 

What’s new?

Voters will have more privacy at their polling stations. Trautman said voters no longer have to say aloud the party for which they are voting. Under the proposed Joint Primary Election Setup, voters can use an iPad to select the party they wish to vote for.

“One of the biggest complaints was: Why do we have to announce to everyone we’re either voting in the Democratic or Republican primary?” Trautman asked.

The county clerk said another major complaint was long lines at the polls. To cut down on that, voters will be able to cast their ballots at any polling location, similar to what they already do during early voting. County officials said it would eliminate voters going to the wrong location, which in turn would mean fewer provisional ballots.

Trautman said these proposed changes would make the overall voting experience more pleasant for all. 

“I think, definitely, it will increase voter turnout because people will not see those long lines going out the door,” she said. “So they’ll want to go. Two things for that: Because of the joint primary, it will decrease the longer lines but also, that choice of voting anywhere they wish on Election Day, our new countywide polling place program is really going to make the difference.”

Travis County has a similar setup for its primary elections, according to the Harris County clerk.

When would it take effect?

The changes would be enacted during the 2020 primary election, should the Republican and Democratic party chairs agree on them by June 30. If there is no agreement, the current election setup will remain the same. 

Trautman will meet with both party chairs on Tuesday to discuss the proposal further.

What does it cost?

Michael Winn, administrator of elections for Harris County, estimates a savings of $225,000-$280,000 with the proposed Joint Election Setup. The county would save money due to fewer clerks being needed to run polling locations.