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Texas Democratic Party official appointed interim Harris County clerk

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 5/20/2020 By Zach Despart, Staff writer
a group of people standing in front of a building: Voters line up outside the polling place in the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center to vote on the final day of early voting before the Super Tuesday primary election Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Houston.  Christopher Hollins will be in charge of running July’s primary runoff as well as November’s general election — potentially the highest turnout contest in county history — during the coronavirus pandemic. © Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Voters line up outside the polling place in the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center to vote on the final day of early voting before the Super Tuesday primary election Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Houston.  Christopher Hollins will be in charge of running July’s primary runoff as well as November’s general election — potentially the highest turnout contest in county history — during the coronavirus pandemic.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday appointed an attorney and Texas Democratic Party official as interim county clerk.

Christopher Hollins, vice finance chairman for the state party, will serve until a new clerk can be elected in November. Incumbent Diane Trautman, who was elected in 2018, announced May 9 she would step down because of health issues.

The court voted 3-2 along party lines to approve Hollins. Five public speakers urged court members to choose Teneshia Hudspeth, Trautman’s chief deputy. County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said Hollins’ pledge to serve only on an interim basis factored in their decision.

Hollins was selected after 10 p.m., more than 12 hours after Commissioners Court convened, and was unavailable for comment.

He previously worked as a senior manager at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company and intern at Goldman Sachs and the White House Office of Presidential Personnel during the Obama administration, according to his personal website. He has never held elected office.

Hollins faces a difficult task. He will be in charge of running July’s primary runoff as well as November’s general election — potentially the highest turnout contest in county history — during the coronavirus pandemic.

Harris County in April invested $12 million to expand mail voting to any resident fearful of contracting coronavirus at polling places. A pending court case could derail those plans, however, and leave the county will little time to adjust. Countywide voting, Trautman’s signature accomplishment, has never been tested in a presidential election.

Elections have flummoxed even experienced county clerks, from both political parties, as Harris County’s massive population, geographic expanse and aging voting machines present challenges. Both elections Trautman oversaw during her brief tenure had problems.

Trautman’s departure encouraged Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis to propose exploring whether the county should shift to an appointed administrator to run elections instead of the county clerk, as most other large Texas counties have done. That position would also take the voter registration role away from count tax assessor-collector.

Commissioners Court debated the idea on Tuesday but took no action.

The county Republican and Democratic parties must put forth county clerk nominees for the November election to fill the remainder of Trautman’s term, which runs through 2022.

Hollins attended Hightower High School in Missouri City and earned degrees from Morehouse College, Harvard Business School and Yale Law School. He runs his own law practice, which focuses on personal injury claims.

zach.despart@chron.com

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