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Why Harris County Republicans agreed to a joint primary (Opinion)

Why Harris County Republicans agreed to a joint primary (Opinion)

By Cindy Siegel Jan 30, 2024

If you have ever voted in a primary election in Harris County, I can guarantee it’s been in what’s called a “split primary.” What exactly is a split primary, though and how is it different from a joint primary?

Essentially, under a split primary, each party runs its own primary, sharing the location but having separate lines with separate machines and election workers — one for Republicans and one for Democrats.  In contrast, under a joint primary, both Republicans and Democrats line up together in the same location and share voting machines.

This past December, the Republican Party requested Harris County run a split primary. Two weeks ago, however, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office issued an advisory regarding Senate Bill 924, explaining that holding a split primary in a county the size of Harris County is impossible due to the constraints of the new law.

Often, new laws have unintended consequences, and SB 924 has a major one. Harris County is massive — it’s the largest county in Texas by population, with over 1,100 voting precincts. This new law directs that the number of polling locations cannot be combined, and for a primary to be split, there would have to be enough regular and backup voting machines for each party. According to Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth, that would mean having enough equipment to service at least 1,024 voting sites.

WHAT TO KNOW: Voting in Houston’s March 5 primary election

In the past, we’ve been able to combine precincts to significantly reduce the amount of equipment needed. For example, the March 2022 primary had enough machines for a little fewer than 400 polls on Election Day and fewer than 800 polls during the general election in 2022. Harris County does not, however, have enough machines to provide for the number needed to hold a split primary, as opposed to a joint.

We have spoken with our elected officials, election law experts and the Texas Secretary of State Election Division. They all came to the same conclusion — having a split primary this year is not possible due to the restraints of this new law, and to do otherwise would violate the law. Instead, the two county parties will be holding a first-ever joint primary this Election Day.

As Harris County Republican Party Chairman, it’s my job to run our primary election in compliance with the election code. That means doing everything I can to ensure the integrity of the Republican primary, as well as ensuring that Republican voters and candidates are participating in a fair and secure election process.

Both parties are working with County Clerk Hudspeth to build controls and oversight into the joint primary. Each party will have a presiding judge and their own clerks to help their voters cast their ballot on Election Day and will be able to resolve any issues that may arise.

I know that there is a long, dark shadow over Harris County elections because of the massive failures of those who came before County Clerk Hudspeth. So, naturally, Harris County Republicans are justly wary of the electoral process.

But, to the Republican voters reading this article: know that the Harris County Republican Party is doing everything we can to put safeguards in place for this primary and to follow the law as dictated by SB 924. Additionally, we are already having discussions with our elected officials about correcting the unintended impact and burden of this law in the next legislative session.

Harris County has had its issues in the past. No one can reasonably argue against that. But the second we stop showing up, the second we stop practicing one of our most fundamental rights — the right to vote — is the day we lose more than elections, but the very sense at the core of what it means to be an American.

Early voting begins Feb. 20. Make your plan to vote today, and make sure you cast your ballot, no matter the circumstances.

Cindy Siegel is chairman of the Harris County Republican Party

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