According to Harris County Republican Party (HCRP) Chair Cindy Siegel, Longoria recently notified the party that her office will send out “deputized” county employees to pick up ballots and voting equipment at the close of the polls on May 24, primary runoff election day.
However, the Texas Election Code stipulates that election day judges have the legal responsibility for delivering ballots to the central counting stations.
On May 7, 2022, the election date for constitutional ballot propositions and many local contests, Longoria sent out county employees to pick up the ballots and equipment. But Siegel told The Texan that in some cases county employees never showed up to pick up materials, that at least one county employee arrived without any documentation or a valid drivers license, and that 13 ballot bags went missing overnight, resulting in a count delay of 15 hours despite a low turnout of less than 119,000 votes.
During testimony before the Texas House Committee on Elections last week, Longoria explained that since election judges were tired after working long days, she used constables to pick up materials during early voting and had deputized county employees as temporary elections office workers to pick up the materials on election day.
Keith Ingram, Director of the Texas Secretary of State’s Election Division, later told the committee that while the county could staff multiple drop off locations, “The law requires that the presiding judge of the polling place deliver the results to the county election official.”
Asserting that Longoria’s procedure on May 7 was illegal, Siegel said that after consulting with legal counsel and the secretary of state, HCRP has instructed primary election judges to deliver all ballots and equipment to the Harris County Central Counting Station in person.
“We do not want any of our election judges to violate the Election Code resulting in a situation where the performance of their duties is questioned,” said Siegel.
“There are several highly contested races on the Republican Party ballot. We do not want any of the election results in a close race to be challenged by a candidate due to ballot chain of custody problem.”
Election judges or clerks delivering ballots and equipment on election night receive a $100 stipend from the county.
On the night of the 2022 primary election, judges reported waiting several hours to deliver materials to the central count.
While the law permits the elections division to set up multiple drop-off locations for judges, Texas Election Code states, “A delivery of election records or supplies that is to be performed by the presiding judge may be performed by an election clerk designated by the presiding judge.”
Appointed elections administrator by Harris County Commissioners Court after a 3 to 2 party-line vote to take election responsibilities away from the elected county clerk and voter registrar, Longoria has faced intense scrutiny after a series of errors, especially after the March Primary Election in which her division excluded 10,000 ballots from reported counts.
Longoria submitted her resignation on March 8, one week after the primary election errors, but she will remain at her post through July 1, 2022.
A former staffer for state Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) and former state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), Longoria filed a federal lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to block portions of the state’s new election reform law prohibiting elections officials from sending out unsolicited mail ballot applications.
State Republican Party Chair Matt Rinaldi released a statement attributing Harris County’s ongoing elections problems to the appointment of “left-wing activists to run elections instead of competent elections administrators.”
“The Harris County Republican Party and the Republican Party of Texas will not allow her intentional violation of Texas election law to continue,” wrote Rinaldi.
Following the HCRP announcement, Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu accused Republicans of mounting an effort to “recruit and pay workers to act as partisan mercenaries during elections.”
Update: The Harris County Elections Division forwarded an email to The Texan that Longoria sent to HCRP officials regarding the party’s refusal to use deputized county employees to transport ballots, stating, “As a direct result of these efforts to undermine the election, we moved all election night operations from the Election Technology Center to NRG [Stadium and Park] to have the additional space needed to accommodate twice the number of vehicles we have to receive on election night.”
“With just days until the Election, I want to make very clear that your actions will directly result in a slower count, draining our resources and ensuring that we will likely not be able to release final unofficial results until well into Wednesday. Even after our continuous efforts to work with you in good faith, every week, for months, to carefully and collaboratively make elections fair, equitable, secure, and transparent, you will undoubtedly blame this office rather than take the responsibility for your actions.”
Longoria also wrote that neither of the political parties had “raised any issues or concerns regarding the legality or logistics of the election night ballot transport process prior to the May 7 election.”
A Harris County Elections Administration spokesperson told The Texan that 31 Republican judges for the May 24 election had notified Longoria that they would prefer to have the county employees pick up and transport ballots on election night.
The Harris County Republican Party claimed that Texas election law requires judges to transport ballots, and the election division’s use of county employees was a violation of state code.
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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.