This year’s Harris County elections have been plagued by long wait times.
Tuesday is Election Day in Texas, and the election administrator’s office has already had difficulty with counting ballots and releasing election results. The office is anticipating more challenges amid push back from the county’s Republican party.
After a widely criticized March primary general election and slower-than-expected returns for a low-turnout special election earlier this month, outgoing Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria says she again expects long delays for Tuesday’s primary runoff — but this time, she says county Republicans are to blame.
The Republican Party has asked its election judges to ignore Longoria’s plan to deliver ballots Tuesday, leaving her office concerned of another late night — or successive days — of election workers tasked with tallying results.
County Republicans argued late last week that a plan from Longoria’s office to send out deputized election workers to pick up ballots and voting equipment after polls close presented chain of custody issues, which violated Texas election code. Instead, the GOP told election judges to deliver those materials directly to the county’s central counting station in person.
In response, Longoria’s office accused the GOP of undermining the count process, making it more difficult to process results on time.
"We know that one of the things that continuously has led to delay of election results for every election is presiding judges just not showing up with their equipment, not bringing back the right equipment," she said. "And so we have to go throughout the night and pick up their equipment and kind of make up for those mistakes. We tweaked the program even better to make it a faster check in time for the vehicles as they get here. And yet we’re seeing the Republican Party with just days to go before election day last week said, ‘never mind, we don’t like your program.’"
Longoria’s office says it works with “deputized full-time county staff” to conduct drop-off during the early voting period, and planned to extend that to election night to more quickly process those ballots and add support for election judges. The deputized staff is accompanied by county law enforcement to help ensure the equipment and materials are dropped off at the central count location safely, the elections administrator said.
Now the elections administrator says her office has had to come up with contingencies, including training more county volunteers and moving all election night operations to NRG Arena to account for an increase in the number of vehicles dropping off the equipment.
“The name of the game today is just backup, backup, backup,” Longoria said Monday. “We’re doing our best to pivot at the last minute and make every resource available to you know, again, make up for the fact that the Republican Party has decided to opt out of our best laid plan.”
Longoria announced her resignation earlier this year after widespread criticism over her handling of the general election, in which it took about 30 hours to count ballots only to later discover an additional 10,000 that were not counted. Her resignation takes effect in July.
Harris County was once again the last large county in the state to tally its votes during the May 7 special election, which despite low turnout saw a final unofficial count come in after 9:30 a.m. the next day.
The county GOP argued that recent history forced its hand.
“There are several highly contested races on the Republican Party ballot,” GOP Chair Cindy Siegel wrote in a statement last week. “We do not want any of the election results in a close race to be challenged by a candidate due to ballot chain of custody problems. It's imperative that the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office provide a fully staffed and fully trained team to receive ballots in a secure, orderly, professional and transparent fashion.”