HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — The shortage of ballot paper at some Harris County voting centers on election day was more widespread than the Elections Administration Office estimated, according to a KHOU 11 analysis of equipment and voter turnout records.
The county’s post-election analysis on the extent of the shortage was “largely inconclusive.” After reviewing help desk logs and calling presiding and alternate election judges, the county estimated 46 to 68 voting centers ran out of their initial allotment of paper.
KHOU 11 Investigates compared ballot paper packets allocated to the total number of votes cast and discovered 119 voting centers did not initially receive enough ballot paper to cover voter turnout. The county allotted each of the locations six ballot paper packets -- or enough for 600 ballots. But the total votes cast exceeded that amount, sometimes by hundreds of ballots. For example, 946 election day ballots were cast at the Bellaire Civic Center, 990 at Warner Elementary School, and 1,037 at Salyards Middle School.
At some of those 119 locations, voters and election judges KHOU interviewed said their voting centers actually ran out of paper for a period of time.
“How does this happen? How do you run out of paper?” voter Sharan Gaunia said on election day.
“I’ve never heard anything so basic as running of ballots,” longtime election presiding judge Terry Wheeler said.
The Harris County Republican Party, which has a pending lawsuit against the Elections Administration Office, said it wasn’t aware of the scope of the shortage.
“It was worse than what we even knew,” GOP Chair Cindy Siegel said. “And there’s no excuse in my mind.”
Siegel, an accountant by profession, said ensuring there is enough paper to go around should not be a difficult process.
“The obvious thing is to go at look at history,” she said.
An Elections Administration Office spokesperson said the county did look at historical data to determine the proper ballot supply for each voting location. But KHOU 11 Investigates discovered on election day, 52 voting centers received less paper in 2022 than ballots cast in 2018. For instance, Briargrove Elementary School, Goodson Middle School and Faith American Lutheran Church received 600 paper ballots in 2022, but four years earlier more than 1,000 election-day ballots were cast at each location.
“I mean, it’s mismanagement at best,” Siegel said. “We as Harris County voters deserve better."
KHOU 11 Investigates repeatedly requested an on-camera interview with Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum over the course of three weeks. He ultimately declined to answer questions on the record, so we approached the public official while entering the county administration building.
“I’ll talk with you after we have a meeting with the court commission on Tuesday and then we’ll go from there, OK,” Tatum said.
Tatum has previously said supplemental paper was delivered to some polls throughout election day, but his office provided no specifics about how much was sent or to what locations.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that 119 not 121 voting centers did not initially receive enough ballot paper to cover voter turnout.