Politics

Texas says Harris County’s vote count will be delayed — a claim the elections administrator denies

Harris County election officials won’t have primary election results by the statutory deadline due to damaged ballots, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Harris County election workers handle ballots Tuesday, March 1, 2022. State officials say the county won’t be able to report results within the statutory 24-hour window after Election Day.

Harris County election officials may not have primary election results by a statutory deadline due to damaged ballots, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

In a press release, the Texas Secretary of State said his office is monitoring ballot counts in Harris County to ensure accuracy and timeliness. Texas election code requires all counties to report results from early voting and Election Day within 24 hours of polls closing on election night, the office said.

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria disputed any interpretation suggesting her office was not following state law, and said the county would meet its statutory deadlines.

“Harris County has never said that we’re not counting the results tonight,” she said. “Harris County has never said that we’re not able to return results over tomorrow night.”

Key to the disagreement, according to Longoria, is a discussion that occurred earlier in the day. The central count committees for both the Republican and Democratic parties reached out to the Secretary of State over an interpretation of Senate Bill 1, the state’s strict new election law, Longoria said. Fearing delays at the polls, the two sides were concerned about what punishments could be levied against them under the new law if they did not meet deadlines set by the state.

Longoria said she assured the committees that she would work to get election results tabulated by Wednesday night. She added that she was later caught off guard by the secretary of state’s announcement.

Throughout the day, however, Longoria did make clear that voters should expect at least some delay in results. Earlier Tuesday, Longoria cited jammed ballot sheets as one reason.

By midnight, five hours after polls closed, less than 4% of precincts were reporting results.

Harris County unveiled new voting machines last year. Voters using the new machines enter their choices on a touch screen, and then insert slips of paper that print the voter’s choices, along with a unique code for the voter. Those printed ballots are then entered into a separate scanner.

“It's going to take us a couple of days for all those little paper tears and jams to get it sorted because in Harris County, we believe in accuracy over speed, especially in light of all these election discussions across the nation,” Longoria said earlier Tuesday.

Ballots in Harris County are the longest in the state and take up two pages instead of one. Longoria said that there is also higher voter turnout this year compared to the midterm primary in 2018.

In a statement, Secretary of State John B. Scott said his office would work with the county to comply with the election code.

“We want to ensure that all Texans who have cast a ballot in this year’s Primary Elections can have confidence in the accuracy of results,” he said.

Final results still won’t be available until at least six days after Election Day once mail-in and provisional ballots are counted. Under Senate Bill 1, rejected mail-in ballots can be corrected up to six days after Election Day and still be counted. As of Feb. 28, 11,175 mail-in ballots were rejected.

The Secretary of State's Office has offered Harris County advice and legal assistance both over the phone and with an in-person representative, Sam Taylor, the assistant secretary of state for communications, said in an email.

Failure to deliver precinct election returns by the deadline is a Class B misdemeanor, according to the state, though it’s not immediately clear how that rule would be enforced.

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