From Houston Public Media:
Updated Oct. 13, 9:42 a.m. CT
Fort Bend County will extend early voting throughout the week after machines in at least four polling places — including a “mega site” at the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land — were down Tuesday morning with technical issues, on the first day of early voting in Texas.
Reports of the broken machines at the Smart Financial Center in Sugar Land came in shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday. Fort Bend County Judge KP George later confirmed the technical problems on social media, and asked people to stay in line to vote.
Late Wednesday night, Fort Bend County election officials said the machines impacted were electronic poll books used for voter check in.
In response, George announced that polls would close at 7 p.m. for the rest of the week. Polls were previously set to close at 5 p.m. through Oct. 17.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, George said the county would investigate the problems and hold accountable anyone found to be responsible.
“I know that it created a lot of problems for our people to stand outside and wait, and it is just one of those things,” George said. “And I just wanted to apologize, definitely, for the inconvenience caused to our voters, even though I personally have nothing to do with it.”
Machines at the more than 6,000-seat arena were down for an hour after polls opened, due to what county officials said was a manual error — they were not timed correctly to start working Tuesday morning.
After that issue was resolved, a second technical issue impacted the machines, and officials were still working to figure out the cause of the problem as of 11 a.m.
George said he would not leave the site until all machines were up and running.
It was not clear how many machines in total were affected by the technical problem, or whether the issue had been corrected. A call to the county elections department was referred to elections administrator John Oldham, who did not immediately return a request for comment.
A line at the Smart Financial Centre snaked around the building Tuesday morning as scores of people waited for their opportunity to vote.
Faisal Zahed waited more than an hour outside the Smart Financial Centre. It was his second stop of the day — he had left another polling location, at a Fort Bend County Kroger, which had also experienced problems.
Zahed said he saw people leave the line at Kroger and head home, or to work. He himself had taken a vacation day.
“It’s not all the time you have the privilege to take time off to come vote,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today, because if i took the day off, I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back.”
The line began to move again about 11:30 a.m., though it was not clear if polling issues were corrected at all four sites.
Missouri City officials confirmed machines were down in the community center at 1522 Texas Parkway, but were back online as of 11:15 a.m.
Officials also confirmed machines were down in the Sienna Annex at 5855 Sienna Springs Way, and Hightower High School at 3333 Hurricane Lane.
Harris County saw much better results, shattering single-day early voting records — though voters did face long wait times in some locations.
At the Trini Mendenhall Community Center in Spring Branch, lines were long — voters waited more than hour at times — but machines were operational and poll workers moved things along as quickly as possible.
Poll workers at the site handed out latex finger covers to all people who showed up to vote, to avoid touching any surfaces — just one of the protocols in place as voting took place during an ongoing pandemic.
Signs on the walls and floors asked people to socially distance, and voting machines were spaced out. Poll workers were masked and stood behind plastic shields. All voters are also asked to wear masks.
Lines at NRG Stadium were non-existent in the opening hours of early voting, with people getting in and out within minutes. A mail-in ballot drop-off location — the only one in the county, after an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott caused 11 others to close — was seeing little traffic by 9 a.m.
Philip Randall, 50, said he waited just 10 minutes to vote. He was eager to get a jump start on the first day of early voting, and said this election was the most important of his lifetime.
Randall, who is a registered Democrat, said he’s voted for candidates in both major political parties. But this year he voted against President Donald Trump, who he said was unfit for the office of president.
“I just can’t have him in the White House. It’s an untenable situation at this point,” Randall said. “I didn’t vote for him, but I was willing to give him a chance, and it turned out so much worse than I could have imagined.”
Despite the ease of voting Tuesday, Randall said he hoped more people in Harris County showed up to the polls going forward.
“It was nice that there was no line, but then it was also disappointing, because I was really hoping a lot of people would turn out,” Randall said. “I’m glad I got in and out in 12 or 13 minutes, but I’m really hoping to see a lot more people turning out later.”
Additional reporting by Sara Willa Ernst and Florian Martin.