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What Chick-fil-A and H-E-B can teach Texas about running elections

Former clerk says efficiency is key when serving millions of people in a short amount of time.

DALLAS — While the 2022 election has come and gone, its shadow will loom over Harris County for weeks, and possibly months, to come.

District Attorney Kim Ogg is investigating the election in Harris County after receiving a referral from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. Ogg also asked the Texas Rangers for assistance.

But the man who organized and led the 2020 election for Harris County calls the investigation pure politics.

“If the past is predicate, what’s going to come out of these investigations is nothing at all, Chris Hollins said on Y’all-itics. “The point of these investigations is just to be able to tell right wing extremists that there’s an investigation going on. There’s nothing underneath that. And no thought goes into it beyond that from what I’ve seen.”

Gov. Greg Abbott was the first to call for an investigation into what he called “widespread problems” with Harris County’s elections.

The Harris County Republican Party also filed a lawsuit, claiming the county and Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum violated the Texas Elections Code.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston, told us he doesn’t think it will be difficult to find a crime.

“You’ve got 23 polls that seemed to have run out of paper, or weren’t given enough to start with and they weren’t followed up with to get more ballots to those polls on a timely manner,” the Republican said. “One precinct judge had to dismiss 150 people from line. Think about that. You’ve got a line that’s 150 deep and you’re out of paper and you have to dismiss them.”

Listen to the full episode of Y'all-itics:

But Harris County voters, like voters in many other counties in Texas, had the ability to cast a ballot at any location in the county. And on Election Day, there were 782 voting locations for them to choose from.

Hollins, a Democrat who is now running for Houston Mayor, says the new election law may have actually created problems instead of solving them.

Hollins says lawmakers made it illegal for county clerk staff or election administration staff to visit voting locations to check for problems, unless they’re specifically called in by the people running that location.

“They can’t check in proactively. They can only check in when called. And this was in reaction to the fact that under my leadership, the County Clerk’s Office had assigned professional staff in addition to the election judges, just to be there as a base of support,” Hollins told us.

And Hollins says everyone must remember running an election, especially in the state’s largest county, is incredibly difficult. Among other complexities, he says thousands and thousands of election workers must not only be hired, but also trained.

Hollins says Harris County must become more efficient when it comes to elections and run them for what they are: serving millions of people in a short amount of time.

And he says the county doesn’t have to look very far for ideas.

“Election administration is not, and should not be, a political job," Hollins said. "It’s a job managing an enormous logistical operation. And so, in the same way you’ve seen successful private sector companies, whether it’s a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru or an HEB shopping line, solve some of these challenges, we should be taking that approach to make these operations seamless."

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