HOUSTON—If you want to know how busy it gets at a polling place, ask the people pushing cards.
Mel Stevens, who was handing out fliers for a candidate for sheriff at the West Gray Multi-Service Center, has worked polls for eight years, but he figures he’s never seen it busier than this week.
“Yesterday was even worse, but today’s a big crowd also,” Stevens said. “Very big crowd. I think it’s the biggest crowd I’ve seen in a long time.”
In fact, Monday was the busiest opening day of an election season in Harris County history. Election officials said 47,093 voters cast their ballots on Monday, shattering the November 2008 first day total of 39,201.
Once again, on the second day of early voting, people reported standing in line for up to 45 minutes on West Gray, one of the busiest polling places in the county.
But there’s a trick to beating those lines. Those voters could have saved themselves some time by taking a short drive to another polling place.
Unlike on Election Day, early voters in Harris County can cast their ballots at any of the 37 locations. So voters simply driving to other polling places can save themselves the time and aggravation of standing in line.
At the Ripley House in east Houston, for example, voters were surprised to discover they could stroll right into the polling place, cast their votes and walk out without waiting in line.
“Oh, the experience was real fast,” said Wesley Diaz, who cast his vote at Ripley House. “Walked in, walked out. No big deal.”
The Galena Park Library and the Holy Name Church on Houston’s near north side are also among the least used polling places.
Unfortunately, county officials note, neighborhoods with high concentrations of Hispanic residents tend have smaller turnouts.
The early voting numbers may give some indication of what will happen on election night. Campaign workers and other political observers have traditionally tried to predict election results based upon early voting turnouts in certain neighborhoods.
For example, a high turnout in the Spring Branch area, where Tea Party sentiment bubbles, foretold the victory of GOP Senate nominee Ted Cruz. Conversely, heavy early voting in the historically African-American Sunnyside area might portend a good election night for Democrats.
So Republicans might be encouraged to learn the highest opening day turnout in Harris County happened at the Champion Forest Baptist Church. But political analysts caution against reading too much into one day’s turnout.
“Well, they’re clearly Republican voters. This is a stronghold of Republican voting and straight-ticket voting, I might add,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University professor who is KHOU 11 News’ political analyst.
But he added, “Republican voters have always dominated the early voting.”
Voters in Texas do not need to show voter registration cards at polling places, but they do need to produce some sort of identification. The most common alternate ID cards are driver’s licenses, but officials say any of the following are legally acceptable:
1. A Voter Registration Certificate;
2. A driver’s license or personal identification card issued to the person by the Department of Public Safety or a similar document issued to the person by an agency of another state, regardless of whether the license or card has expired;
3. A form of identification containing the person’s photograph that establishes the person’s identity;
4. A birth certificate or other document confirming birth that is admissible in a court of law and establishes the person’s identity;
5. A United States citizenship papers issued to the person;
6. A United States passport issued to the person;
7. Official mail addressed to the person by name from a governmental entity;
8. A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter; or
9. Any other form of identification prescribed by the Secretary of State.