HOUSTON (Nexstar) — After major reporting delays in election results during the March primary, Harris County’s new elections administrator is striving to avoid a repeat but isn’t guaranteeing zero delays in reporting next week’s midterm election results.
As Texas’ largest county, election officials from the state to local level said it’s not abnormal for Harris County to have delays in getting the results out. Legally, county election offices are required to report results within 24 hours of the polls closing on Election Day.
That was not the case for Harris County in March when the reporting process of primary election results drew out long past the 24-hour deadline. It was largely due to paper jams as voters attempted to feed their lengthy ballots into new voter machines. Uproar led to the resignation of the county’s election administrator, Isabel Longoria.
Longoria has since been replaced by Clifford Tatum, who brings more than 16 years of experience to the office. Tatum was appointed by the county in July.
The March primary was the first major election in which Harris County used the new Hart InterCivic Verity Duo voting machines, which all Texas counties will be required to have by 2026, a new requirement from Senate Bill 598, which was passed in the last legislative session. So far, about 25 Texas counties are already in compliance and have the new machines.
The machines are designed to give voters more confidence in the security of their ballot. After voters select their options, the machine saves a digital copy of their selections to an internal thumbdrive and prints out a physical copy for a paper trail.
“The paper itself lends itself to integrity to the elections process,” Tatum said. “So there’s a there’s evidence of how they voted and then that papers read into the scanner.”
Sam Taylor, a spokesperson with the Secretary of State’s Office, said the paper-jam issues with the new machines are mostly caused by two-page ballots. During early voting for the November election, he said Harris County has already reported a few issues with this again that have been resolved. Harris County has the largest ballot in the state in this election.
“We’ve heard of a few instances of voters’ papers either getting jammed or damaged or something not printing out right,” he said. “But in those cases, we’ve been able to give the counties advice and guidance on how to legally spoil that second page of that ballot, and then give them an opportunity to resubmit or do a clean copy of that second page, so that it scans properly.”
In an effort to help mitigate voters confusion with the machines, Tatum started community outreach programs by offering training to advocacy groups, churches and other gathering places. He said the county has seen mixed results amongst voters during early voting.
“Some voters are actually prepared and ready and willing,” Tatum said. ‘We see some voters that aren’t actually following the process. The instructions on the screen are so important because they tell you to insert one page at a time. And we’re seeing voters that are inserting two pages at a time — or before the first page finishes, they’re inserting the second page —and it’s causing the machine to jam.”
Tatum and Taylor recommend voters using the machines to double-check their ballot and are patient when it is printing.
“Wait for the machine to print out both pages, feed in page one, and then feed in page two. If there’s an issue with either of those pages if they get damaged, or if it’s not scanning it right … then raise your hand and ask for an election worker to come over. And they’ll walk you through the process on how to correct that.”
Even if there are minimal issues with the new machines on Election Day, Tatum said Texans should anticipate delays for Harris County reporting its results. That’s because election judges will have to drive from all over the county — which is as large as the state of Rhode Island — to the central counting center where ballots are processed and tabulated. Then actually processing the digital results from each scanner will take hours at a minimum.
“It’s not speedy work. It’s a tedious process,” Tatum said. “We’re spending our time to make sure that we do it right, and sometimes that’s just not speedy.”