Elections 2022Local NewsHarris County Elections Administrator Blames Staffing Shortage, Equipment Failure, Astros Win for Election Day Debacle

The report points to usual problems with running elections but also blames the Houston Astros' World Series championship parade for causing delays.
January 3, 2023
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Election Day issues in Harris County have drawn national attention, multiple lawsuits, and a criminal investigation.

The Harris County Elections Administration (EAO) released a preliminary report acknowledging multiple 2022 general election difficulties — laying some blame on the Houston Astros’ World Series win — and suggesting the department will need more funding and more full-time staff for future elections.

Characterized by delayed openings, equipment malfunctions, and a paper ballot shortage that forced multiple locations to turn away voters, Harris County’s 2022 election has drawn legal election contests, lawsuits, and a criminal investigation involving the Texas Rangers and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

Although the EAO states that full analysis will take months to complete, the 54-page document published last Thursday afternoon offers some analysis of operations and procedures before, during, and after elections in the state’s most populous county.

Even prior to Election Day, the report notes that some voting machines displayed error messages and that there were problems with paper ballots jamming in the scanning equipment. The EAO did not disclose the number of times these issues occurred.

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Lawsuits filed by the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP) and candidates contesting the election allege that Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum gave confusing instructions for handling paper jams, which may have allowed some voters to vote twice, since unscanned ballots could have been incorrectly placed in an emergency chute to be counted later.

Regarding paper ballot issues, the EAO analysis states that 68 precinct judges reported paper ballot shortages and that 61 of those received additional supplies. But the report also cautions that some of the precinct judges’ testimony is contradicted by the alternate judges, and alleges that some judges refused to speak with EAO staff due to pending lawsuits.

The analysis does not provide an explanation for the shortage of ballots or address allegations that most voting centers that ran out were in predominantly Republican areas of the county.

One explanation EAO offered for delayed openings of multiple voting centers on November 8 is the Houston Astros’ World Series victory celebrations that took place the day before. Since many schools hosting voting centers were closed for the city’s parade, EAO said that judges were unable to set up 170 voting centers until Monday night or Tuesday morning.

“This resulted in reports from several election judges that they were delayed in opening at 7:00 a.m. due to limited time to setup on Election Day.”

The EAO did not cite exact numbers and later in the report notes missing or malfunctioning equipment, and election workers who quit or did not show up also caused opening delays.

The delays led to a lawsuit filed late on Election Day as well as a district court order to keep polling sites open an extra hour. Later that night, the Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX) overruled the lower court and ordered the county to segregate provisional ballots cast by those in line after 7:00 p.m. SCOTX has not ruled on whether those ballots are valid, and some workers have alleged that the county did not properly identify all late cast ballots for segregation.

Mail ballots also figure in the report. The county noted that vendor Runbeck Services, which also provides election services for Maricopa County, Arizona, informed them they would not be able to handle the county’s lengthy ballot.

In September 2022, the county and Runbeck agreed to subcontract mail ballots to a second vendor, and EAO reported some voters were not receiving ballots or were being charged extra postage. They also noted that some ballots “may not have been moving through the United States Postal Service,” according to tracking information.

Although the county has provided three versions of an elections reconciliation report required under state law, the EAO report provides a fourth set of numbers of mail ballots received and counted. On pages 23 and 24, EAO acknowledged unspecified errors in the previously published reconciliation reports but suggested the report as designed cannot provide an accurate accounting.

HCRP Chair Cindy Siegel disputed EAO accusations that she or the HCRP’s attorney had instructed precinct judges not to speak to staff: “We told our judges it was up to them whether they wanted to speak to EAO leadership.”

Siegel told The Texan that in preparation for their lawsuit and election contests, HCRP has collected nearly 3,000 reports from workers and voters. The party also estimates 2,881 voters were turned away from voting centers on Election Day due to paper ballot shortages or malfunctioning equipment.

Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) dismissed the value of the EAO report as “incomplete.”

“This report does not provide any assessment or answers to the negative impacts from delayed openings/inconsistent polling hours, polls running out of paper, or poor technical support. It is not a complete and comprehensive report as they were not able to speak to many of the judges who experienced Election Day problems,” said Ramsey in a statement.

In a statement to ABC 13, Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) called the report “thorough” and said it proved the election was free of malfeasance or interference.  He also suggested some election issues are “directly due to state leadership’s confusing or misguided attempt at fixing a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The EAO did offer praise for voter outreach efforts subcontracted to KGB Communications and for the department’s training efforts, but called for improved training and development of future voter education activities.

The report also states that operational systems are in “immediate need of upgrades or replacements,” and that additional full-time personnel and increased funding will be needed to operate future elections.

The Texas Secretary of State’s Office recently completed a full audit of Harris County’s 2020 general election and is slated to conduct an audit of the 2022 general election this year.

A copy of EAO’s report can be found below.

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan 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.