Located at Westheimer and Voss west of Houston’s 610 loop, Collectors Firearms operates in a large building that used to house a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Owners offered the use of a side entrance into a lounge area cordoned off with temporary barriers for use as a polling site.
Harris County Republican Party Chair for Precinct 312 Mike Holsey explained to The Texan that there are no fire or police stations, community centers, or churches within his precinct that could house a polling site.
“This location is perfect,” said Holsey. “It is ADA compliant and has 500 parking spaces, and the store would put up tables and other barricades to keep it separate from the main gun store.”
Officials ruled out an elementary school previously used in the precinct since the county’s elections division had internet connectivity issues in that building.
“This gun store would be the safest place in the state to hold an election,” said Holsey.
In an email to the Harris County Republican Party, Director of the Texas Secretary of State’s Election Division Keith Ingram said the site did not violate the state’s election code but encouraged the party to consult with the county attorney.
In a statement to FOX26 in Houston, Tatum said, “We spoke with the county attorney’s office when the gun store was originally proposed. After reviewing the Texas Penal Code, we had to recommend against it to the political party that originally nominated the location.”
Texas Penal Code 46.03 only prohibits most individuals from carrying a firearm on the premises of a polling place during an election.
A 2018 Texas election advisory cites an opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton that while the penal code prohibits a person from bringing a firearm onto the premises of a polling place, there are exceptions for peace officers and election judges.
“The county has a polling site in Buddy’s gay bar in Montrose and another one inside the jail,” said Holsey. “They are discriminating against me because I’m conservative, I’m old, and I’m white.”
The county’s Election Commission hired Tatum to replace Isabel Longoria, who resigned earlier this year after a lengthy list of election operation snafus that included 10,000 uncounted ballots in reported totals after the March 2022 primary election.
Under County Judge Lina Hidalgo, commissioners voted 3 to 2 along party lines to take away election responsibilities from the elected county clerk and voter registrar in favor of an appointed administrator.
Tatum formerly served as the executive director of elections for the District of Columbia, general counsel for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and interim director for Georgia’s state elections division, but his nomination was opposed by the Republican party after revelations of problems with his management of elections in the past and tax liens against his property in Georgia.
The Texas secretary of state has not yet completed an audit of Harris County’s 2020 elections, but earlier this year reported concerns over potential noncitizens and other ineligible voters on the county’s rolls. In August, commissioners voted along party lines to mount a legal challenge to an upcoming state audit of Harris County elections, set to begin after the 2022 general.
Handling of the county’s elections operations has played into this year’s elections with Republican candidate for county judge Alexandra del Moral Mealer vowing to return election management to elected officials she says will be more responsive and accountable to voters.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.