Elections 2020Local NewsDisparities in Harris County Election Tallies Prompt Inquiry From State

Discrepancies in Harris County’s early voting reports have prompted queries from the Texas Secretary of State in the latest controversy over the county’s handling of elections.
October 27, 2020
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The Texas Secretary of State’s Election Division is seeking clarification from Harris County on discrepancies in election reports submitted to the state.

Observers noted on Monday that as of October 25, Harris County’s published “Daily Record of Early Voting” reported that 1,090,445 voters had cast ballots either by mail or in-person, but the Secretary of State’s website, which reflects data submitted by the county to the state, reported 1,081,265 total votes cast, a difference of 9,180 votes. A third report, the Harris County Early Voting roster, had the total at 1,092,521.

The reports posted on the county’s website warn that the numbers are unofficial, but the significant discrepancy prompted a response from local officials and a query from the state election office.

The Secretary of State’s Office has confirmed to The Texan that on Monday, the Texas Elections Division sent Harris County a formal request for clarification on the submission of their early voting totals. 

State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who previously served as the Harris County Voter Registrar, also called on Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins to provide an explanation for the discrepancies.

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“Clerk Hollins owes an explanation to the public about which one of these numbers is correct,” said Bettencourt. “Hollins cannot have nearly a nearly 11,000 vote differential on different reports unexplained.”

Updated to include votes cast on Monday, October 26, the county’s daily record of early voting now reports that 1,149,047 have cast ballots. The state’s website now shows 1,151,399, reflecting a discrepancy of 2,352 votes.

Harris County commissioners appointed Hollins, who is the Texas Democratic Party vice-chairman of finance, to serve as the interim county clerk earlier this year after elected clerk Diane Trautman abruptly resigned last May.

This year the county has approved more than $27 million and accepted a private grant for an additional $9.6 million for the 2020 elections, and Hollins has pushed an ambitious agenda that elicited numerous lawsuits from citizens and state officials. 

Although initiatives to send mail-in ballots or applications to all voters have been halted by state and federal courts, Hollins has succeeded in creating drive-through voting stations in select portions of the county, circumventing Texas law limiting curbside voting to those who are physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or risk of injury.

Courts have also ruled against Hollins’ expansion of mail-ballot drop off sites and his efforts to block certified poll watchers.

Additional controversy surrounding Harris County elections has come from multiple allegations of ballot harvesting. Earlier this year the Secretary of State’s Office referred at least one complaint to the Texas attorney general for a full investigation, and last month private investigators provided to the Supreme Court of Texas sworn affidavits alleging a coordinated ballot-harvesting operation that involved a Biden campaign operative, state Senator Boris Miles (D-Houston), and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct.1).

Most recently, certified poll-watcher Raymond Stewart provided another sworn affidavit and complaint to the Harris County district attorney alleging irregularities in early voting procedures. 

Stewart, a former peace officer who was serving as a certified poll watcher, says he saw a large stack of Texas driver’s licenses left on a table between two sign-in stations. In his sworn statement, he says election workers coming in from drive-through polling stations would sometimes sort through the stack of licenses, choose one, scan it for voter check-in, and obtain a ticket to bring out to the drive-through voter.

Other irregularities identified by poll watchers include insecure transport of election documents. Harris County Republican Party Vice-Chair Kevin Fulton said that individuals without identification were picking up from polling sites unsecured boxes of surrendered mail ballots, mail ballot cancellations, provisional affidavits, statement of residency forms, and other “critical documents” and taking those materials without documenting chain of custody. 

“Now every candidate on the ballot and anyone who cast a vote should be concerned,” said Fulton.

Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West on Monday referred to the “utter incompetence” of the county clerk and called Harris County “ground zero for illegal activity and violations of Texas Election Law.”

 “It is imperative that the Texas Secretary of State’s Office immediately engage, and the Attorney General’s Office open an investigation.”

The county clerk’s office did not return The Texan’s request for comment, and phone calls to the Harris County elections division were sent to a voicemail mailbox that was full.

On the agenda for today’s Harris County Commissioners Court meeting is a request from Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) to authorize a study of how resources were allocated and spent by the county’s elections division, to be submitted to commissioners in January of 2021.

Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly specified Raymond Stewart’s involvement in and relation to the story. We regret the error.

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.