Harris County Election Brings New System, Same Problems

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New technologies and new leaders haven’t stopped Harris County from facing the same old problems at the polls, as long lines and problems have anticipated a slow vote count that is expected to stretch to early or noon on Wednesday.

Morning struggles with polling stations that weren’t ready for a stampede of voters turned into confusion at midday, then alleged lack of paper for voting machines in the evening, which disrupted the premises to the point that advocates requested and received a one-hour extension of when people could vote. .

Harris County District Court Judge Dawn Rogers signed an order keeping all Harris County voting sites open until 8 p.m. poor planning that deprived some voters of their rights.

“These delays forced countless voters to leave polling stations without being able to vote,” the groups said.

Voters who show up at the polls between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. will be able to cast a provisional ballot, according to the county attorney’s office. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office filed a challenge to the extension, which could invalidate the ballots.

In some places, precinct judges have reported a lack of specially formatted paper used in voting machines, though the extent of the problem is unclear, Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum said.

“We’re evaluating what’s actually going on,” Tatum said. “We’re not sure so I don’t want to speculate. But I have staff on the ground right now delivering paper to any location requested. We’ve been delivering paper throughout the day and we should see that this is not a problem for voters queuing.”

In various neighborhoods, however, the long lines were enough to turn voters away. Jack Vaughan, presiding judge at West University Place Community Center, said his borough requested additional paper Tuesday after running out. The police station finally received more than enough paper – and shared an extra box with a nearby police station.

He asked for more equipment but did not receive it.

“If we hadn’t had these hundred-person lineups, we probably would have had a lot more voters,” he said. “Because a hundred-person queue with people saying they waited two and a half hours to vote is a deterrent to voters. If there’s anything that could have kept people from voting today at West University Place, it would be those long lines in the heat. We had a few people that we brought in because they seemed to be suffering from heat exhaustion.

Any issues with polls closing or long lines will certainly further delay what should already be a slow count. Over the past month, Tatum and others have lowered their expectations for quick delivery or early results. Even though everything went perfectly – which hasn’t happened in Harris County this millennium – the reading of the 782 digital players two at a time, because the county chose to buy only a pair of collection machines, will take until around 2am.

“We just need our voters to know that just because all the results aren’t out by midnight doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong,” Tatum said last month.

LIVE UPDATES: Houston Election Updates: Harris County election results will be overdue. Here’s why.

From the time polls opened at 7 a.m., election officials encountered problems that prevented those heading to the polls from making their choice. At BakerRipley Ripley House in Houston’s East End, “miscommunication regarding the delivery of supplies” delayed some voters by five hours.

Tatum, at times throughout the day juggling two phones as he takes calls from voters about problems at the polls, described most of Tuesday’s troubles as routine, resulting in “some difficulties.”

“It’s part of the process,” Tatum said. “We have to plan for the worst and be ready to react. It just took a bit of time to set everything up. »

Various places needed help to sort things out. Curbside voting at Acres Homes led to a long line of cars or voters forgoing going inside or to other locations.

Carmen Jones, 52, waited over an hour to vote from her car. She had recently had knee replacement surgery and couldn’t wait in line. But she was not fazed by the technical issues, saying she expects such issues come Election Day.

“I’m going to sit in my car all day,” she said. “However long it takes me to do it.”

Something as simple as not having visible campaign signs at polling stations can be daunting for people used to being able to go to the polls at their grandchildren’s schools.

Reverend Jerome Nickerson said he was “angry and frustrated” by what is happening in his community, including the lack of campaign or direction signs in front of the building at 10:30 a.m.

“At first (senior voters) couldn’t figure out which door to enter,” Nickerson said.

The monitoring organization Common Cause has witnessed several isolated “acts of bullying” across Texas, including in Harris County. However, issues of voter intimidation are not widespread, said Voting Rights Project manager Katya Ehresman.

Some incidents involved people outside the 100-foot election line trying to pressure or interrogate voters. A Montgomery County polling place had people “trying to intimidate voters for a partisan issue overwhelm the parking lot,” Ehresman said.

Most instances of concerning behavior in Harris County involved aggressive campaigning outside the 100-foot line, Ehresman said. But the group received reports that a Galveston County man was wearing a body camera and asking voters questions before heading to the polling station.

“We were able to talk to the person doing this,” she said. “No voter appeared intimidated or deterred.”

The ballot itself intimidated or frustrated some voters. Harris County’s long list of candidates required two pages of paper now that all Texas ballots must be backed up with a printout – and a long series of picks and touchscreen taps to navigate the races.

“It didn’t affect me,” Amy Klam, 47, who prioritized women’s rights and public safety when making her choices at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center. “But I think having each individual vote on screen, instead of having multiple options on screen, would have been intimidating for me if I wasn’t ready to vote for all the judges (from criminal court).”

The drudgery of dozens of selections made pine for the previous system that allowed direct voting and the ability for a voter to click on a box and choose all Republicans or Democrats on the ballot.

“It made it a lot longer,” Khali McDaniel, 25, said outside her Humble polling station at Park Lakes Elementary. “Most people know, hey, I’m voting all this or all that.”

Many voters headed to church communion halls, schools and community centers with the same spirit, whether they encountered a 10-minute wait or complete confusion. At noon at Foster Elementary in Kingwood, as election officials grappled with technology issues, voters waited patiently and soaked up the sun on a hot day.

“We believe we need to have a voice,” said Earlene Roach, 82, who named health care, the border and crime among her top concerns.

Another voter, Gail Plumberg, said she waited about 20 minutes but didn’t seem fazed.

“It’s just your civic duty,” she said.

Chronicle reporters Julian Gill, Anna Bauman and Jonathan Limehouse contributed to this article.

dug.begley@chron.com

jen.rice@chron.com

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