HOUSTON – Felix Sylvester walked straight to the polling station after work and cast his ballot within minutes. There was no queue, maybe because it was 3 a.m. a few minutes
The parking lot was lit in the pre-dawn darkness by towering lampposts. Most Houstonians slept – most, but not all. Mr Sylvester, 65, voted early Friday at one of eight Harris County polling stations which, five days before the election, remained open all night. For him, it was more than a matter of convenience; it was probably the difference between voting and not voting.
Mr. Sylvester works in a grain elevator on the Houston Ship Channel. He worked eight-hour and 12-hour shifts, making it nearly impossible to vote during the early voting period in Texas, when polling stations were typically open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“It would have been difficult, because if I work at night, I sleep during the day,” he says. It happened that 3 am was a time that worked for him.
The 2020 election now has something in common with 7-Eleven: 24-hour service.
From 7 a.m. Thursday to 7 p.m. Friday, the eight voting sites gave new meaning to the concept of early voting, operating in the cities of Houston, Pasadena and Cypress. Voters in America’s third most populous county voted at 2 a.m. as if it were 2 p.m., as part of a push by predominantly Democratic county officials to expand voter access to the midst of ‘pandemic within three weeks. early voting period, which ended on Friday.
The numbers clearly indicated that this was not just a gimmick. During the night rush hours – 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. – 10,250 people voted in the eight locations. More than 800 of those voters voted between midnight and 7 a.m., election officials said.
Late-night voters were students and retirees, men and women, gay and straight, parents who brought their children and workers who entered still wearing their ID strings and nameplates.
Leslie Johnson, 29, who works for an oil services company, finished the job, went to the wrong voting site and finally voted in a nightclub shortly after 7 p.m. Richard Munive, 33, a bar back who is the son of a Colombian immigrant, checked in around 1:30 a.m., took off his work shoes, and voted at 2:30 a.m., a few hours before starting his second job at a printing warehouse in t- shirts.
In three polling stations overnight, it was democracy in action, in the dark. The locations were near the old Astrodome of the NRG Park stadium complex, the Tracy Gee Community Center in a diverse neighborhood north of Chinatown, and a facility in a historically black neighborhood called Kashmere Gardens.
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Many of the voters at those polling stations were black, Hispanic or Asian, and the vast majority said they were Democrats who voted for Joseph R. Biden Jr. for the presidency. Some said they went to the polls at night, when they could, because they didn’t want to miss what could be a historic election that could change the political landscape in Texas. Others said it was simply because they almost always worked late or stayed up late, and polls in Texas never do.
Mr Sylvester, who is from the Caribbean island of Trinidad, finished his work around 2 a.m. and went to the polls after hearing the information about the 24-hour vote. When asked who he supported for the presidency, Mr. Sylvester laughed.
It was too late for politics. Or too early.
“I voted for the winner,” he said.
Eliminate stress associated with the ballot box
Malea Hardeman, 24, has the type of job that rarely fits a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule. She was therefore delighted to be able to vote at 11:30 p.m.
“It really relieved the stress of trying to figure out where to fit it in,” Hardeman said after the vote. “I’m a doula, so my working hours are completely random. Because babies are all the time.
Ms Hardeman voted in an all-night venue at NRG Arena. A nearby drive-in concert, hosted by civic engagement group Move Texas to attract people to the nightly polls, had just ended.
The concert headliner was Houston rap superstar Bun B. For many viewers, there was another superstar on the show – the young man in charge of the 24-hour voting, Chris Hollins, the most senior election official in Harris County.
Mr. Hollins, 34, is Harris County’s youngest and first black clerk. It has worked to make voting easier during the pandemic, tripling the number of early voting sites and opening drive-through polls. The all-night voting event was the first time in Texas history that polls were open 24 hours a day.
For years, Republican leaders in Texas have fought to toughen the state’s voting rules, passing voter identification legislation and other measures. The initiatives led by Mr. Hollins, a Democrat, have been challenged in court by Republican officials and conservative activists. Despite these legal battles, the turnout in Harris County exceeded the 2016 early vote total; 1.4 million people voted in person or by mail during the early voting period that ended on Friday. Across Texas, more advance ballots were cast this year than the total number of votes cast in 2016.
“There are a lot of people in this county and around this country who work non-traditional hours and live non-traditional hours, and for good reason,” Hollins said. “One evening, we give them the opportunity to vote at a time that suits them.”
Free tacos on a cold Texas night
The late-night voting site in West Houston near the Chinatown neighborhood had what no other had: free tacos.
State Representative Gene Wu, a Democrat from Houston, had organized and paid for Boombox Taco to park his truck in a community center parking lot and serve voters. People stood by the truck with plates of tacos on an unusually cold Houston night, lingering after the vote.
Jovany Ramirez, 19, was still wearing his Burger King uniform when he voted around 1 a.m. Carlos Davis, 41, was in his nursing clothes.
“Just like with health care, there is no such thing as access,” Davis said. “If you don’t have access to it, you have nothing.”
‘It’s a way for our voices to be heard’
As any ATM manager will tell you, sometimes things get busy long after midnight. And sometimes things are extremely slow.
After Mr Sylvester voted at 3 a.m. at a community center in Kashmere Gardens, the minutes passed quietly and without voters.
And then, shortly before 4 a.m., Brittany Hayes, 33, pulled up, a small mine of antivirus masks hanging from the rearview mirror. She too got in and out within minutes.
“I work nights and usually get off at 9:30 am, so the polling stations are closed,” said Ms. Hayes, a customer service representative and mother of two who describes herself as a night owl, said. state. said, her 1 year old. “I still vote. I feel like it’s a way for our voices to be heard.
The parking lot was freezing cold. Ms Hayes wrapped herself up, just after voting but long before dawn, in the Stars and Stripes blanket that she keeps in her car.