The first day of early voting in Texas saw long lines, a record number of voters in the state's most populous county and relatively few hitches as voters surged to polling places despite the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Voters in Harris County shattered the record for in-person ballots cast on the first day of early voting, with more than 128,000 people voting, according to the county elections office. The previous record was set in 2016, when about 68,000 people cast votes there.
More than 25,000 ballots were cast in Travis County by 4 p.m., said County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, adding that she was "tickled pink" by the number of people who showed up to vote. Nearly 33,700 people in the county voted during the first day of early voting in 2016.
"We knew today was going to be a really big day, but the voters have sent us the signal that they are really, really ready to vote," DeBeauvoir said.
Voting in Texas
When was the last day to register to vote?
The deadline to register to vote in the 2020 general election was Oct. 5. Check if you’re registered to vote here. If not, you’ll need to fill out and submit an application, which you can request here or download here.
When can I vote early?
Early voting for the 2020 general election runs from Oct. 13 to Oct. 30. Voters can cast ballots at any polling location in the county where they are registered to vote during early voting. Election Day is Nov. 3.
How will voting be different because of the pandemic?
In general, polling locations will have guidelines in place for social distancing and regular cleaning. Several counties will offer ballot marking devices so voters avoid contact with election equipment. Poll workers will likely be wearing face masks and other protective equipment, but masks will not be required for voters.
How do I know if I qualify to vote by mail?
Texas is one of just a few states that hasn’t opened up mail-in voting to any voter concerned about getting COVID-19 at a polling place. You can find eligibility requirements and review other questions about voting by mail here.
Are polling locations the same on Election Day as they are during early voting?
Not always. You’ll want to check for open polling locations with your local elections office before you head out to vote. Additionally, you can confirm with your county elections office whether Election Day voting is restricted to locations in your designated precinct or if you can cast a ballot at any polling place.
Can I still vote if I have COVID-19?
Yes. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms, consider requesting an emergency mail-in ballot or using curbside voting. Contact your county elections office for more details about both options.
See our voter guide
Have you run into hurdles or problems while trying to vote in Texas? We want your help in reporting on those challenges. Tell The Texas Tribune your voting story.
In some parts of the state, voters waited in lines of three hours or more. That's expected, officials said, as new poll workers get accustomed to the process and eager voters show up in large numbers.
Despite the long lines, officials reported only isolated problems across the state.
The Fort Bend County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday afternoon to extend early voting hours for the rest of the week after an election system snafu earlier in the day that left all of the county's polling places temporarily closed. Polling places will close at 7 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. this week across the county.
County election staff had originally programed the equipment to begin early voting on Oct. 19, said Election Administrator John Oldham. In July, Gov. Greg Abbott allowed early voting to begin a week earlier, but Oldham said staff never corrected the date in the county's election equipment, and the incorrect date prevented voting machines across Fort Bend County from connecting to the county's election system Tuesday morning.
Oldham said the system will be updated Tuesday evening after polls close to prevent further issues. The majority of precincts were back online as of 9:15 a.m., he said, and voting had resumed at all locations by the afternoon.
“I will do everything in my power to ensure every voter in Fort Bend County is able to cast their ballot this and every election cycle,” County Judge KP George said in a statement. “Protecting democracy and the rights of voters is Fort Bend County’s top priority.”
George, who was on-site at the Smart Financial Centre mega voting site, said in a video posted to Facebook that "those who are responsible will be held accountable" for what he called "glitches in the voting system."
Voters in Tarrant County likewise experienced long lines after a poll worker tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the county to temporarily shutter three early voting locations while officials worked to find replacement workers. Only one location — the Euless Family Life Senior Center — remained closed as of 9:30 a.m., according to the Tarrant County Elections Office.
Three polling locations in Travis County experienced minor problems Tuesday morning, DeBeauvoir said. Poll workers noticed the ballot boxes weren't accepting ballots and called technicians, which delayed the start of early voting at those locations. DeBeauvoir said rebooting the machines fixed the problems.
DeBeauvoir said voting "started a bit slower as crews got used to it" but added that she does not expect any other issues going forward.