Houston made national headlines during the 2020 election season, thanks in part to Harris County’s massive success in implementing drive-thru voting locations. That system, intended to make voting safe and accessible during the ongoing pandemic, was the brainchild of gay Southwest Houston native Ben Chou.
Chou’s talent for innovation, his upbringing as a child of immigrants, and his passion for inspiring future generations are what drives Chou’s current campaign for Harris County Precinct 4 County Commissioner.
The 31-year-old candidate’s experience with creating a local drive-thru voting option as the director of innovation at the Harris County Elections Office showed him the possibilities for bringing old systems into a new era. “The drive-thru voting system was so successful. In fact, we did a survey after our July primary race in 2020, and we had bipartisan approval,” Chou says. “Then the state legislature [got rid of] voting innovation, for no other reason than Donald Trump cried voter fraud, which we know was never actually an issue. It was so widely supported, which is evidence that we need these new ways of thinking in county government.”
It may seem like an uphill battle to go up against Texas Republicans, but Chou is more than prepared to answer the call. “Republicans have gerrymandered the state legislature so much, but we have opportunities to win at the county level. We’ve got to continue to stand for our values and create policies that are effective. I’m sick and tired of Republicans beating us up. We have to keep pushing the envelope to fight back.”
Aside from voting rights, Chou’s priorities include a list of grievances he’s heard for years through his community-service work. “When I talk to people, the biggest things I’m hearing are the need to fix potholes and sidewalks, flooding, and criminal-justice reform,” Chou emphasizes. “In just about every neighborhood, people are talking about potholes. I want to create a 72-hour guarantee, where you can report a pothole and within 72 hours we will have someone on it and fixing it. Other cities are doing it, so we should be, too. All of our government services need to be in a 21st-century model.”
Honing in on an issue that is top of mind for all Houstonians, Chou says, “Flooding is a constant issue, and we must act in environmentally responsible ways to improve our bayous.” And summarizing his priorities with criminal-justice reform, the candidate says, “We must decrease violent crime [in a way] that treats people with dignity and respect and keeps law enforcement accountable.”
The personable public servant also knows the turmoil that LGBTQ youth in Texas can face, which is why his goal of empowering young queer people is so important to him. “It wasn’t until I was in college and Annise Parker was elected mayor that I realized politics was a possible future path,” he recalls. “When I made my campaign announcement, a student who identifies as nonbinary messaged me on Instagram and told me that Katy ISD had banned LGBT websites [that supposedly promoted] ‘alternative lifestyles.’ They asked if I would be willing to speak to the school board to oppose this. I don’t live in Katy, but my district is largely in Katy. The student was proactive and reached out, and I was more than happy to go and speak on their behalf. I’m glad to be able to carry these messages and speak out about what school boards are doing [and how their actions hurt] LGBT kids.”
Despite pressure from his family to become a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer, Chou remains devoted to serving his community through the political process. “This is our first chance to elect someone that is gay to a county commisioners court in Harris County, and possibly in Texas. It’s not just about being gay, but about my lived experiences,” he says. “I am the most experienced candidate. I’m the only one who has worked for a Harris County agency. I know how they work, as well as how the budgeting process works.”
Reminiscing about coming out as gay while interning in Shanghai with the State Department, Chou, who had a religious upbringing, explains how his government experience gave him the perspective he needs to lead people from all walks of life. “Coming out, and figuring out who you are and how to love yourself, is hard. There are so many kids—and adults—that are working on that,” he admits. “Whether you’re gay, straight, or somewhere on the spectrum, we all deal with things that we aren’t comfortable sharing with others. I want to be their champion and let them know I’ll be there for them, because I know what it’s like.
For more info, visit benchoutx.com.
This article appears in the February 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.