“We have sued on behalf of the Republican Party to force the elections administrator to do her job,” said attorney Steve Mitby who is representing Siegel.
“She must finish the count by 7 p.m. tonight or turn over all of the election materials for impoundment by a district judge so that any further counting can be supervised,” Mitby told The Texan.
Filed shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday evening, the lawsuit cited multiple issues with the election process in the state’s largest county and invoked Texas law requiring election authorities to provide returns within 24 hours of the polls closing on election day.
Since Longoria allegedly told the Texas secretary of state and the local Democratic and Republican parties that her staff would be unable to meet the statutory deadline for reporting results to the canvassing board, Siegel is invoking Texas Election Code that requires a district court to impound the precinct election records and “supervise the activities necessary to complete the count, prepare the precinct returns, and distribute the records.”
Among issues cited by Siegel, who is also a member of the canvassing board, are problems with the second page of paper ballots generated by the county’s new voting machines. Allegedly, many of the machines would not accept the second page, so elections staff at the central count facility have been “duplicating” the unrecorded ballots and manually entering results according to the lawsuit.
Longoria allegedly told the parties and SOS that this process would require an additional 500 person-hours to complete, pushing completion beyond the deadline of 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The emergency request also notes state law requires the continuous counting of ballots, and that the counting station should never be vacant “so that no questions arise regarding chain of custody for the ballots.”
In a request for a writ of mandamus, Siegel asks the district court to conduct a continuous count of votes “including by engaging additional staff and/or Party representatives,” to keep counting station personnel in the counting station for the Republican primary at all times, and to make best efforts to complete the count by 7:00 p.m.
Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, Siegel said in a statement that the party had received countless complaints from voters and election workers about machines that were not delivered or not operational, inadequate training for workers, and incorrect ballots given to voters.
“The Elections Administrator is now stating that they will complete the count by the 7:00 pm deadline tonight,” said Siegel. “However, the Harris County Republican Party still has serious concerns about the number of voter complaints of wrong ballots being issued and damaged ballots from our voters and election workers that need to be addressed before the vote is finalized.”
“To that extent we will take what steps we deem necessary to ensure the integrity of the election process and that these serious issues are addressed prior to the May 24 Primary Runoff.”
By the Wednesday deadline, the Harris County elections website had posted numbers for “369 of 375 Voting Centers” but throughout the day many observers had noticed some precincts reporting far more ballots cast than registered voters, in one case resulting in a “33,700 percent” voter turnout.
Later in the day, those numbers had been adjusted to reflect a more reasonable turnout total of 5.19 percent.
Siegel joined Lt. Gov Dan Patrick in laying blame for the problem at the feet of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo who had pressed for moving elections responsibility away from the elected county clerk and voter registrar to an appointed administrator.
“This fiasco has been a complete failure on behalf of Democrat County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s unelected, unaccountable Elections Administrator who is tasked with managing our elections and was sold to voters as a way to make our elections more efficient in Harris County,” said Siegel.
The civil case has been assigned to the 165th District Court under Judge Ursula A. Hall, and a hearing was set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
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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.