Oddly Enough

Ballots, beer and a drag queen on roller skates: Election Day at a Texas bar

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Houston LGBTQ bar Buddy’s offered Texans a unique election experience on Tuesday: casting ballots for the U.S. presidential election in 14 voting booths on its dance floor.

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Buddy’s is the first bar to serve as a voting venue in Harris County - the largest in Texas by population - after owner Christopher Barry proposed it to officials seeking to make voting easier during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is our way of trying to help our community,” said Barry, 41, who described the set-up as “Vote in the Front; Party in the Back.”

Bar patrons drank Dos Equis beer on the outside patio as voters cast their ballots inside. A garage door separated the two areas, providing the privacy and peace to vote.

“It really doesn’t feel like I’m in a voting place at all,” said Bryan Cervantes, 36, a graphic designer who was one of the roughly 100 voters who had voted at the site by Tuesday afternoon. “It was super simple.”

Outside, drag queens with the nonprofit group Joy To The Polls danced and lip-synched to songs as part of an effort that organizers said was geared toward increasing voter turnout.

“We’re here to bring joy to the polls, literally,” said Athena Sapphire, 26, whose legal name is Ervin Johnson.

Bedecked in a floral jumpsuit with bell-bottom cuffs, Sapphire roller-skated around the bar’s parking lot.

“No matter who people plan to vote for, we want to encourage them to come out and vote,” Sapphire said.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, 34, showed up at Buddy’s in cowboy hat and boots to talk to voters and bar patrons.

“Why not have a polling location that people can find easily?” said Hollins, a Democrat.

After Harris County boosted its election budget sevenfold from 2016 to $27.7 million, Hollins tripled early-voting locations to 120, including drive-through voting that has been contested in courts by Republican groups and some polling sites that are open 24/7.

On Election Day, more than 800 voting locations were open across the county, including a funeral home, a stadium, schools, libraries and community centers.

No long lines were reported on Tuesday anywhere in the county, which is larger than the state of Rhode Island and has 2.5 million registered voters.

Editing by Mary Milliken and Sonya Hepinstall