HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Some Harris County voters went to cast their ballot on Election Day but left their polling location frustrated and puzzled.
“At 3:30 pm., they told us they ran out of paper, out of ballot paper,” said Sharon Gahunia, who tried to vote at the Mandarin Immersion Magnet School in the Galleria area.
“First time I ever ran into a problem like that trying to vote,” added voter John Knoerzer, who was turned away at Shadow Forest Elementary School in Kingwood.
The Harris County Republican Party said it received reports of paper ballot shortages from 21 election judges across the area. Four of them told KHOU 11 Investigates that they repeatedly called the Harris County election judge’s support line, giving ample notice that paper ballots at their polling locations were running low and to send more supplies.
“Time went by and nobody showed up, and so I called again,” said Charlotte Lampe, a presiding judge at Hamilton Middle School in the Cypress Fairbanks area.
She said her next call for help did not go well either.
“I'm going to run out of ballots, when is the ETA?” Lampe asked. “She hung up on me!”
Presiding judge Rori Ortiz was working at the Atascocita Middle School voting center. By 3 p.m, she said they were down to 50 pages. After unsuccessful attempts to get more from election headquarters, she sent a clerk to another polling site to essentially beg for more.
“I felt like I was disenfranchising voters,” Ortiz said. “We were frustrated and upset.”
In Northwest Harris County at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, presiding judge Cody McCubbin shared a similar experience.
“I was like, ‘hey guys, I'm down to my last ream of paper,” McCubbin said. “I didn’t get anybody to come by for hours after I called.”
Like Ortiz, McCubbin sent an election worker to another polling location but was only able to get one extra ream of paper. That didn’t last long and he was forced to shut down and turn voters away. He said his voting center was out of operation for about two hours.
“To have to look the people I know in my neighborhood and look them in the eyes and say ‘sorry guys I’m out of ballots,’ do you know how much that pains me? McCubbin said.
Election judge Terry Wheeler had to do the same in nearby Cypress at Salyards Middle School. He said there were 150 people in line when paper ballots ran out at about 2 p.m. and extra ballots didn’t arrive for another two hours.
“I’ve never heard anything so basic as running out of ballots,” Wheeler said. “That’s complete incompetence. They knew our area was extremely busy, and by the way, it’s a heavy Republican area,” he said.
Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum was asked how could he fumble something that seemingly appears to be so simple.
"There wasn't a fumble," he responded.
Tatum said his office started receiving paper ballot shortage calls as early as 7:30 a.m. on Election Day. He did not have an immediate explanation and said elections officials tried to allocate ballots based on historical turnout at voting sites.
“Did we misallocate? That’s what I have to assess,” Tatum said.
“Based on what I ascertain, I will make some recommendations to our staff, to our operations, to the courts, to the elections commission about the resources and the systems that we may need top to bottom,” he said.
For Charlotte Lampe, her volunteer election experience spans over four decades.
“It’s a real dedication for me to have free and fair elections,” she said. “This was the worst experience I have had in 40 years.”
Watch Tatum's full response to the paper ballot issues in the video player below: