Houston Matters

Harris County extended voting hours ‘case study’ for how quickly courts can work, expert says

After several polling locations ran into issues on Tuesday, all Harris County polling locations stayed open until 8 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

A sample ballot is placed in the voting machine as a demonstration for how it work on election day.
Daisy Espinoza / Houston Public Media
A sample ballot is placed in the voting machine as a demonstration for how it work on election day.

On Tuesday, a judge signed off on allowing an extra hour of voting for Harris County residents after several polling locations ran into issues that morning including opening late, running out of ballots, and losing the key for voting machines. The delays resulted in polls staying open until 8 p.m., not 7 p.m.

The Texas Supreme Court, however, said that any votes not cast by 7 p.m. were to be set aside as provisional ballots.

On Thursday's Houston Matters, Craig Cohen talked to Matthew Festa, a law professor with South Texas College of Law Houston. He said things like this can work quickly.

"Both courts worked very quickly, and it was really a case study ... in how courts can respond quickly to pressing issues," Festa said.

Texas law says that polls are to close at 7 p.m. Festa said there is not much room for negotiation.

"The concept of an emergency order really has to prove that 7 p.m., hard deadline set by the state has to be moved," he said. "The Supreme Court said, ‘this isn't enough for that.'"

Festa said people still were able to do their "patriotic chore", which he said was the most important goal for the day.

"For now I think both courts did the right thing, which was to allow people to cast their ballots," he said. "And the legal decision can be determined later if they will be tabulated."

Festa added that there is a "clear statutory" when it comes to voting times. He said the statute could perhaps be looked at again if there are ever issues like Tuesday.

"What could be the path to remedying that instead of running to courts," he said.

He pointed out that only a few polling locations had issues out of over 800 locations.

"I think that maybe what the Supreme Court was worried about," he said. "That's something they might have factored in."