Chris Hollins: Defender of the Right to Vote

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 11/6/2020, 4:15 a.m.
Proper preparation warrants productive possibilities. When Chris Hollins assumed the office of Harris County Clerk, after a 3-2 party vote …
Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins

Proper preparation warrants productive possibilities. When Chris Hollins assumed the office of Harris County Clerk, after a 3-2 party vote of the Harris County Commissioners Court, he had three priorities in mind. His goal was to ensure that every resident of Harris County, regardless of party, race, creed, religion, or area of town in which they live, could vote in a safe, peaceful and convenient manner. Having shattered all previous Harris County voting turnout records, Hollins has blown even his own mind with Election 2020.

It seems as if this role was designed just Hollins just at this time. Except for a White House internship during the Barack Obama administration, Hollins has had no prior political experience yet he maneuvered in this position with an unwavering determination and confidence that he would excel. No matter the obstacle Hollins was undeterred in his goal of in giving every Harris County resident, who was eligible, a safe, peaceful, and convenient process.

Hollins was appointed as the Harris County Clerk in May 2020 by a 3-2 party vote of the Harris County Commissioners’ Court when Diane Trautman resigned due to health-related issues. Once he took the oath of office, Hollins became the youngest and first African American to hold the position. The July Primary Runoff was quickly approaching so Hollins had to jump right in performing the duties of his new position, which meant he had to be ready on day one.

A presidential election is in itself a highly watched election with high participation. However, due to the tremulous tenure of Donald Trump in the White House voter turnout was expected to be in unprecedented numbers and estimates still didn’t capture what the numbers actually were. With Harris County being the second largest with residents Hollins knew he had a monumental task before him. Far greater than only past hiccups was the fact that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, which has gripped the country in fear with rising death tolls and highly contagious nature.

Since voters were fearful of coming to polling locations and the increase in voter turnout could lead to long lines and wait times it would be best to remove that obstacle. Hollins’ solution was to send the more than two million eligible Harris County voters a mail-in ballot application whether they requested it on not. Easier said than done since the state of Texas fought against the saying Hollins was acting outside his legal authority and the action would cause confusion among voters. Hollins, an attorney himself, countered their argument saying instructions were clear and absentee voting was a safe option for voters. Hollins won the lawsuit in lower tier courts only to lose his case in the state’s highest civil court.

The state of Texas sued in August to block Hollins from mailing out the applications, arguing that doing so exceeded his legal authority and would cause confusion among voters, some of whom are not eligible for absentee ballots under Texas’ unusually strict criteria. But Hollins argued that the planned mailers gave clear guidance on eligibility and that encouraging absentee ballots where appropriate was integral to holding a safe election during the pandemic. Lower courts with Democratic judges took Harris County’s side, ruling that Hollins could send applications to voters who would otherwise have to request them or find them online. Applications were only sent to voters 65 years-old and up, who qualified for absentee ballots. Hollins called the ruling disappointing in that the court sided with “political forces” to limit voter accessibility. Following this case came numerous others as Republicans used their collective energy to fight all efforts to expand voter access claiming it left opportunities for fraud and other problems.

Despite the hurdles, Hollins was able to expand voter options for Harris County to ensure the safety and convenience of the election. Polling locations were available in each area of town with tons of photo booths. He tripled the number of locations in comparison to previous years. He piloted drive-thru polling locations and 24-hour polling locations. He ensured polling locations were equipped with cleaning supplies, PPEs, and everything needed by poll workers, voters, and volunteers. He instituted new safety protocols in line with CDC guidelines. The attention to safety allowed voters to feel protected when casting their vote resulting in record-breaking numbers at the polls.

The first day of early voting saw over 125,000 voters. Over one million voters were chronicled for the first week of early voting. Altogether more than 2 million voted during early voting. Some voters whizzed through polling locations while others had to pack their patience and wait for hours. Voters were just as determined to cast their vote, as Hollins was to keep them safe.

Hollins has said the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy. He protected that right with a vigilant effort to which Harris County is indebted to him for.

Now that the process of the election is behind him, Hollins will finish up logging residents’ important documents as the Chief Record Keeper for the county. He is looking forward to having some quality time with his wife, Morgan, and their two children, three-year-old Vivian and newborn George Thomas. He plans to return to his lucrative law practice and will not seek to run for any political office, at least not now. Hollins hasn’t closed the door on a possible public servant run in the future.

Hollins is a product of Fort Bend ISD schools holding degrees from Morehouse College, Harvard Business School, and Yale School of Law. He used his background in management consulting to efficiently run the Harris County Clerk’s office.

Houston Style Magazine congratulates Chris Hollins on a job well done.