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Election 2020: Early voting kicks off in Texas on Tuesday

In Harris County, there are a historic number of polling places with COVID-19 precautions and an improved way to find information about wait times online.

HOUSTON — Mark your calendars. Early voting kicks off in Texas this Tuesday, Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 30.

"This year we have 18 days of early voting, that's more than we've ever had," said Roxanne Werner, director of Community Relations at the Harris County Clerk's Office.

Gov. Greg Abbott extended the early voting period in Texas this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And in Harris County, the largest county in Texas, election officials are making early voting even more accessible with a historic number of polling locations to pick from, including mega sites like Toyota Center and drive-thru voting options.

"We have 120 early voting locations, triple the amount we had in 2016, it's historic," Werner said. "We also have extended hours the last week of early voting including one day where eight sites that will be open for 24 hours. So we have longer than ever, more sites than ever and more hours than ever for people to vote early."

Across the country, we've already seen long early voting lines. Expect the same here starting Tuesday.

"Typically the first day of early voting is one of the most popular days," Werner said. "We expect a lot of people to head to the polls Tuesday."

This year, Harris County updated its website. At Harrisvotes.com/locations you'll be able to see real-time data on current wait times so you can make the best choice on where to vote.

"It's a green, yellow, red system, so that will allow for folks to find locations that don't have a line or have a quick wait that they can go to," Werner said.

COVID-19 safety precautions are in place at all polling places. That includes socially distanced voting machines, finger covers, sanitizing wipes, plexiglass dividers when checking in and distance markers.

The Harris County Clerk's Office told KHOU 11 it's had 40,000 volunteers apply to help staff all the voting centers during early voting and on Election Day. That includes 7,000 high school students.

"We are confident we have the staff we need to staff these locations properly so that it's a smooth experience for voters," Werner said.

If you plan to vote early by mail in Harris County, officials remind you to mail back your ballot as soon as possible. Or you can drop it off at NRG Park in person.

In Harris County, you can track your ballot online as well. Election officials want folks to have confidence in their votes. No matter how or when you choose to cast it.

"People working polls are your friends and neighbors," Werner said. "We really encourage you to ask for help or speak up if they're being intimidated or if anyone is doing something that is not allowed or doesn't seem right."