Following Tuesday’s primary elections, media outlets across the nation reported on excessive wait times to vote in some Texas counties, with particular focus on Hervis Rogers; a voter who allegedly waited nearly seven hours to cast his vote in the Democratic primary at Texas Southern University in Houston.
But state records indicate Hervis Rogers is not eligible to vote under Texas law.
According to records from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Rogers is on parole for a 1995 second degree felony offense conviction for burglary.
Under Texas Election Law, (Sec. 11.002) convicted felons are not eligible to vote until the convicted has “fully discharged the person’s sentence, including any term of incarceration, parole, or supervision, or completed a period of probation ordered by any court.”
Rogers’ parole does not end until June 13, 2020, but he had a Harris County voter registration card when he arrived at the TSU campus polling location Tuesday evening. Rogers says he got in line before 7 p.m. but did not cast his ballot until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Although the Harris County Clerk’s office administers elections, the responsibility for verification of eligible voter registrations falls on the office of Ann Harris Bennett (D), the county’s Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar.
Texas Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the former county Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar, told The Texan that verifying registrations requires resources and personnel to access data in the Justice Management System.
“You have to allocate resources for this; you have to get this right,” said Bettencourt.
Most complaints about Harris County’s elections Tuesday stemmed from lengthy wait times.
In comments on social media, Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman (D) blamed the long lines on the Harris County Republican Party’s refusal to hold a joint primary election with Democrats. Under a joint primary, Trautman said the parties could have shared electronic voting machines.
Instead, each party had its own machines at each location, but county election administrator Michael Winn gave each party the same number of machines at each location, regardless of projections and historical data on turnout by locality.
In response to excessive wait times, AP News reported that Winn claimed that if he had tried to give Democrats more machines, the Republicans “ would have cried all the way to Washington, D.C. about disenfranchisement.”
However, in a press conference on Wednesday, Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson strongly contradicted Winn’s statement saying the party had warned the county clerk that it would be better to allocate machines based on expected turnout.
He also pointed out that while Republicans had only requested 2,319 machines, the county had sent them 4,147.
“These [problems] were not anything to do with us; we even suggested solutions. But the county clerk refused and failed to go by our suggestions and created this problem,” said Simpson.
In response to the lengthy wait times, the county clerk did send additional machines to the Democrats at TSU and other locations.
Simpson also rejected the suggestion that holding a joint primary would alleviate the lines, and distributed copies of a letter he sent to Trautman last year explaining the problems a joint primary could create, including long lines, confusion, and conflict between parties.
Under Trautman’s leadership, Harris County has been moving towards using countywide polling sites, which allow voters to participate at any location, but Simpson says the clerk has “rushed to put forward a plan that is not ready for prime time.”
Texas is one of many states that permits early voting by any registered voter. Early voting for the March 3 primary elections opened on February 18 and ended on February 28.
Harris County elections have also been plagued by other problems, including the use of an incorrect voter database both last year and again in early voting this year.
Republicans have also requested an investigation into allegations that Democrats at the TSU polling location checked in a voter and allowed a vote to be cast two hours after polls had closed on February 22, although there were no lines to vote that evening.
A copy of the letter sent to Trautman by the Harris County GOP can be found below.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Cypress, Texas. 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.