Nichole Nech and her son, Devon, wanted to vote Tuesday, but they did not want to go inside a building and be near strangers who might have been infected with COVID-19.
Fortunately for the Timbergrove Manor residents, they didn’t need to worry about the latter in order to do the former. They also didn’t have to get outside of their car during their short trip to Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, which helped make Houston history on the first day of early voting in Texas.
The Neches took advantage of drive-through voting, which Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins piloted earlier this year and expanded for the general election as a means to increase voter safety and convenience during the pandemic. Nichole and her son spent 10-15 minutes waiting in a line of vehicles before pulling into a well-ventilated, tent-like booth, where a poll worker checked their identification and then handed them electronic devices they used to cast their votes.
A few minutes later, the Neches headed back toward their home a couple blocks away.
“It was cool,” Nichole said. “I would definitely do this again. We got to sit in the car and talk, and we didn’t have to be exposed to a lot of coughing and germs and stuff.”
Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, located at 2025 W. 11th St. in Timbergrove, is one of 10 drive-through polling locations throughout the county and the only one in the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest area. It also is serving as a traditional polling place, with a total of 1,166 voters having cast ballots there Tuesday, according to the county clerk’s office.
Hollins said Harris County is the only county in Texas to use drive-through voting, which he said has also been utilized in Wisconsin, among other states. And it helped the county break a record for highest turnout on an early voting day, with a total of 128,186 people having cast in-person ballots Tuesday.
After taking over for former county clerk Diane Trautman on an interim basis this summer, Hollins implemented one drive-through voting location for the primary runoff in July. He said about 200 voters took advantage and rated the experience as a 9.7 out of 10.
“They thought it was safe, they thought it was convenient, and so we decided to expand it,” Hollins said during a Tuesday morning visit to the area polling place. “We’re proud to be offering this voter access.”
Not everyone is a fan of drive-through voting. The Republican Party of Texas filed a lawsuit in a state appellate court Monday night that sought to stop the practice, claiming it violates Texas election law. But according to online state court records, the lawsuit was dismissed Wednesday because the plaintiff lacked standing and the election is already underway.
One of the area voters who took advantage on Tuesday, Inwood Pines resident Alice Harris, said drive-through voting could not be considered fraudulent.
There is one election worker for each of the 10 drive-through booths at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, and voters must turn off their vehicles as well as their personal electronic devices upon entering the booths. The devices used to vote, Hollins said, are the same as the devices used in the indoor voting booths, and they’re connected to the same network.
“There’s not anything wrong with it. You can’t holler ‘voter fraud,’ ” Harris said. “You give them your ID to show who you are, and you’re given the thing to vote on. Vote one time and be done.”
The four other drive-through voters who spoke to The Leader on Tuesday offered praise for the initiative and said they appreciate it being offered during the pandemic. Along with minimizing contact with others, drive-through voting allowed them to bring their pets, listen to the radio or complete work while waiting in line and also kept them in air conditioning on a warm, sunny day.
Manny Seale said it “takes away excuses not to vote.” Fellow Heights resident Eric Vredenburg, who is 60 years old, said it’s especially helpful to older voters who are concerned about COVID-19.
“I think it’s great. I think they should do this all the time,” Timbergrove resident Jessica Crawford said. “Now that they’ve done it, keep this open as an option in general.”
While touting drive-through voting as a safer option than casting a ballot traditionally, Hollins said there are some minor drawbacks such as needing more poll workers to implement the practice. Inclement weather also could present some challenges, but Hollins said the drive-through booths are designed to be to able close and provide cover from the elements. He also said drive-through voters could be directed indoors if necessary.
Heights resident Sabrina Wilbert was among the many voters who opted to stand in line and cast ballots the old-fashioned way on Tuesday. She said she made that decision partly because the drive-through line was longer at the time.
“Then out here, you get to listen to people’s stories,” she said while waiting in line. “You get some camaraderie.”
Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church pastor Troy Treash, whose congregation is known for being progressive and welcoming of people from all walks of life, said the church is “definitely against any sort of voter suppression.” He also said it’s “appalling” that Harris County is limited to one absentee ballot dropoff location during early voting, per an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that requires every county in the state to have one dropoff location but no more.
So Treash said his church was glad to become one of Harris County’s drive-through voting locations.
“When they wanted to offer more ways for people to vote and have it be safe, we jumped on it,” he said. “We just felt like we should allow as many ways for people to avoid the COVID virus and use their voice and place their votes without any harm.”
How to Vote Early in Harris County
Hours of operation: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 13-17, Oct. 19-24, Oct. 26 and Oct. 30; noon-7 p.m. Oct. 18 and Oct. 25; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 27-29.
Area polling places: The Grand Tuscany Hotel, 12801 Northwest Fwy.; Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, 6719 W. Montgomery Rd.,; Sheraton Houston Brookhollow Hotel, 3000 N. Loop W.; SPJST Lodge 88, 1435 Beall St.; *-Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, 2025 W. 11th St.; Hampton Inn and Suites, 5820 Katy Fwy.; West End Multi-Service Center, 170 Heights Blvd.; Moody Park Community Center, 3725 Fulton St.
*-denotes drive-through voting location