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Harris County is ‘Major Flashpoint’ for Election Day Voting Problems

Voting machine issues reported at 18 Houston-area polling locations.

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By Alexa Ura 

Crystal Brumfield showed up at her east Houston polling location early Tuesday morning in hopes of casting her ballot before work. But when she showed up just 30 minutes after polls opened, elections workers at Pleasantville Elementary School told voters that only seven of the 14 machines were working.

After waiting in line for 20 minutes, voters were informed that all of the machines had stopped working, Brumfield said. “They were not charged overnight or they were supposed or had been charged but stopped working for some reason,” she said. “Their direction was, if you can, just come later because they’re not expecting them to be fully charged until the afternoon.”

“Harris County is so big we expect there to be some issues there, but our problem is these are the same things that come up every election. Unfortunately voters are bearing the brunt of that.”

Beth Stevens, Texas Civil Rights Project

Brumfield and several others eventually abandoned the line. She vowed to come back later in the day, but some of the voters who left with her indicated they wouldn’t be able to return. They were not offered paper ballots as an alternative.

The early morning voters at Pleasantville Elementary were among many Texans, particularly in Harris County, who headed to cast their ballots on Election Day and were met by a series of delays and equipment issues that resulted in long lines at the polls and in some cases kept voters from casting their ballots.

“Harris County has been a major flashpoint, if you will,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

At least 18 polling locations in Harris County either did not open on time or were only partially open on time with some locations at first operating with one or two machines when they were supposed to have eight or even 16 in some cases, Stevens said.

Those sorts of issues are “typical of start-up issues on Election Day,” said Hector de Leon, director of communications and voter outreach for the Harris County Clerk’s Office. He said the county has technicians stationed across the county so they can get to voting locations within 10 minutes of a technical distress call and get machines up and running.

“There’s nothing atypical about this morning,” de Leon said. “It’s just the nature of Election Day morning.”

That start-up issues in the state’s biggest county — which turned solidly blue in 2016 after a streak of thing electoral margins — have become “part and parcel” of Election Day is troubling to civil rights advocates.

Among the Texas Civil Rights Project’s chief concerns is that Texans who faced delays and were unable to cast their ballots in the voting window before work would not be able to return before polls closed at 7 p.m. The group has received reports that several voters left their places in line because waits were too long this morning and is looking to connect with voters affected by this.

“Harris County is so big we expect there to be some issues there, but our problem is these are the same things that come up every election,” Stevens said of the delayed openings and the long lines. “Unfortunately voters are bearing the brunt of that.”

Voters in other parts of the state also faced late openings or delays caused by technical difficulties.

The voting machines went down for 20 to 30 minutes in a west Travis County polling location, causing voters to be rerouted to other voting locations, Stevens said. And three of the 143 voting centers in Travis County were slow to open this morning due to “stage fright” on the part of new Election Day judges, according to Travis County officials. The elections office dispatched trainers and troubleshooters to provide additional assistance, but officials were anticipating long lines to last all day.

This story includes information received through ProPublica’s Electionland project, which monitors voting problems around the country. If you had trouble voting, or if you saw something you want to tell us about, here’s how.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/11/06/election-day-texas-midterms-delays-technicals-difficulties/.

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