Following an emergency hearing, District Court Judge Dawn Rogers ordered that countywide polling sites remain open an extra hour, closing at 8:00 p.m. Voters who join the line to vote after 7:00 p.m., however, will be asked to vote by provisional ballot.
The emergency orders came at the request of the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), which listed 10 locations where opening was delayed for hours.
Some locations, such as that at the BakerRipley Cleveland Campus, did not open until nearly 11:00 a.m. During the emergency hearing Tuesday evening, one witness said even after the location opened, the voting machines were not working.
During a press conference, county Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum said there had been a miscommunication about supply delivery and that a key was missing that allowed the election judge to access equipment.
“And once we got the key, [that’s] when he set up. The workers walked out on him and couldn’t help the voters vote,” explained Tatum.
An election worker also told The Texan that at John Knox Presbyterian Church on Gessner, although they had 22 kiosks set up, during the first few hours no more than four were working at a time.
Multiple other locations reported a shortage of paper ballots, which occasionally stopped progress at locations such as the West Gray Center. According to the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP), twenty-three locations had run out of paper ballots at some point during the day, but during the emergency hearing, Jonathan Fombonne of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said at that time only two locations were still waiting for paper ballots to be delivered.
HCRP warned voters on social media to avoid locations experiencing paper ballot shortages.
Election workers also reported that the scanners that read printed paper ballots were malfunctioning at various locations, and voters were asked to place ballots in a drop box to be read at the central count.
The Melrose Park polling location was closed after a city worker was electrocuted and died while working nearby.
Following the order to remain open, Tatum issued the following statement:
“An order has been issued to extend voting hours until 8 p.m. across Harris County’s 781 polling locations. Anyone in line after 7 p.m. will need to vote on a provisional ballot. Voters will cast their ballot as normal, but place their paper voter record in a sealed provision ballot envelope instead of inserting into the scanning machine. All provisional ballots will be tabulated separately inside our Central Count station located at NRG Arena.”
“Today included a handful of late starts at various polling locations, most significantly at the BakerRipley location on Navigation. The additional hour provides voters with the opportunity to cast their ballot if they were unable to do so as intended this morning. We are reviewing the circumstances surrounding these late starts and will provide more information as soon as we’re able. The Early Voting results will be posted after polls close at 8 p.m.”
Harris County’s 2020 general election is currently undergoing an audit, and the county has also been selected for auditing after this year’s election is completed.
Update: After Judge Rogers issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), the Texas Attorney General’s Office intervened. In a second emergency hearing, Fombonne admitted that paper ballots were not delivered to several polling sites that had run out. Andy Taylor, representing the Harris County Republican Party, also informed the judge that the county had violated state law by posting early vote results prior to the polls closing.
Although the judge denied the attorney general’s office’s request to reverse the TRO, the Supreme Court of Texas stayed the judge’s order extending the hours, and ordered that the later cast votes be segregated.
A copy of the judge’s order can be found below.
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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.