News Roundup: Texas Civil Rights Groups Raise Concerns About Harris County Voting Issues

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By Becky FogelMarch 7, 2018 3:15 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Three Texas civil rights organizations are calling for a meeting with Harris County officials after voters faced issues at several polling locations on Election Day.

The Texas Civil Rights Project, the Texas Organizing Project, and Common Cause Texas are members of the non-partisan Texas Election Protection Coalition. Beth Stevens, the Voting Rights Program Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, says a number of issues we called into a hotline.

“And we got reports that polling locations were delayed in opening,” says Stevens. “And one polling location, at least, was delayed in an opening all the way until 8:30 in the morning, so voters were actually turning away and having to leave without casting a ballot.”

Stevens explains that technological issues played a role in several reports they received. For example, at one polling location, only one voting machine was working because there were too few electrical outlets to power the machines. The polling site that did not open until 8:30 on Tuesday, the Ventana Lakes Recreation Center, was having trouble with its e-poll books, which are used to check voters in.

Stevens says these issues are not isolated, but rather part of a pattern in Harris County.

“The kind of the technology issue has plagued Harris County for multiple voting cycles and that’s why we said in our request to Harris County to sit down, this can’t be, an ‘oh well, it was during the primary so it’s not a big deal.’ This continues to happen in Harris County and it needs to get fixed,” says Stevens.

Stevens says they’re asking to meet with Harris County election officials ahead of the May 22 primary runoff election. If any Texas voters encountered issues at the polls, they can call the Texas Election Protection Hotline at: 866 – OUR – VOTE.

While statewide races garnered the most attention last night, there was some big news in local Texas races too.

Two high profile, incumbent district attorneys lost to their primary opponents. One was Democrat and Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood. He gained notoriety for claiming that childhood vaccines cause autism. On Tuesday night, he conceded defeat to defense attorney Joe Gonzales. “And I am very comfortable and confident in the job that we have done,” said LaHood. “And I say we, in the last three years in the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office.”

In McLennan County, Barry Johnson beat out two-term incumbent Abel Reyna for the Republican nomination for District Attorney there. Reyna is widely known for his role in prosecuting Waco’s 2015 Twin Peaks shootout. The Waco Tribune-Herald reports that a visiting judge from Houston recently criticized Reyna for using the case throughout his campaign.

As recovery continues from Hurricane Harvey, Houston has been awarded a grant to improve flood warning signals at traffic intersections. About $9.5 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation will help add new technology to 40 flood-prone intersections. Houston Public Media’s Allison Lee has more.

The sites will be equipped with red light warnings, backup power generators, and batteries. Guided wave sensors will monitor for high water and send warnings to online traffic maps so drivers can avoid those areas.

In a statement, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said this will help keep Houston drivers safer, and even save lives.