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Controversy over proposed polling location at Harris County Jail

HOUSTON – A plan to use the Harris County Jail as a polling location is off the table for now. 

Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman issued a statement saying it wasn't feasible in time for the November 2019 election:

"After a meeting with representatives from the County Clerk, County Sheriff and County Attorney’s Office, we all came to the conclusion that a polling location in County Correctional facilities cannot be a workable solution at this time.  

"The consensus was that Harris County will continue to use the Ballot by Mail program at all County Correctional facilities. I am prepared to support this program by ensuring my office provides materials to promote awareness and voter education about how to apply for a mail ballot and explain their voting rights as an incarcerated individual. This process will remain in effect for the November and all future elections." 

Last month, County Commissioner  Adrian Garcia, who is a former sheriff, proposed a measure to explore the issue in an effort to make sure incarcerated people who have not been convicted have equal access to voting. 

Right now inmates awaiting trial have the option of applying for a mail-in ballot. 

"Since we have 78% of people in pretrial status that are incarcerated, their situation is in legal limbo. Obviously we recognize some people will be innocent. Some cases will be dismissed. So I think it's a good effort to make sure that we are in compliance with the Constitution," Garcia said. 

But critics said it was unnecessary. 

"There's so many problems with the concept and creating a special class and saying, 'If you commit a crime, you get special privileges that nobody else gets,' does not make sense," said County Commissioner Jack Cagle. 

Trautman did not indicate whether she would take up the issue for the 2020 elections.