The top election official in Texas’ most populous county is blaming the state’s top election official for causing an almost 12-hour delay in election results this week. And in Travis County, a new voting system that includes paper ballots, caused confusion for voters and led to a longer-than-usual vote-counting period.
Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman says a last-minute order by the Texas secretary of state caused the delay. Trautman also says she believes the order was politically motivated.
Zach Despart covers Harris County for The Houston Chronicle, and says the secretary of state office’s election advisory, sent on Oct. 23, wasn’t directed specifically at Harris County. But it did require the county to abandon its original plan to use 10 vote-counting sites countywide. The state election advisory forced Harris County to bring all ballot boxes to a central location for counting. Trautman says the change caused the delay in counting votes on Tuesday.
“It’s still unclear, entirely, what the communication was between the secretary of state’s office and the Harris County clerk,” Despart says.
Though it’s unclear exactly how the dispute arose, tension does exist between the Republican-appointed secretary of state and county election officials, many of whom are Democrats, Despart says. Local officials say the state has tried to interfere in the way counties do their work, including how they conduct elections.
Despart says the secretary of state’s office did provide a letter that it had sent Sen. Carol Alvarado, in response to her query about the election conflict.
“The state is saying that Harris County should have known the law all along,” Despart says. “An election advisory is not a policy change. It’s merely a refresher to counties about, This is what our laws are that have been on the books.”
Harris County conducted a high-profile mayoral election Tuesday, and has also implemented countywide voting centers recently, adding to the complexity of Tuesday’s ballot-counting, Despart says. This week’s election was also Trautman’s first as Harris County clerk.
In Travis County, election returns were not finalized until 4 a.m. Wednesday. The county implemented a new voting system this election cycle, which provides voters with a paper ballot that the voter must place in a ballot box. If the voter doesn’t place it in the ballot in the box, her vote isn’t counted. State law requires that if more than three voters at a polling location fail to turn in a paper ballot, all ballots at that location must be rescanned. In Travis County, that amounted to 13,000 ballots from 15 polling locations.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.