HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Nearly 50 polling locations were understaffed on Texas Primary election day, forcing some voters to go elsewhere to cast their ballots, according to newly released data obtained by KHOU 11 Investigates.
Unlike a joint primary where political parties share election workers, the March 1 election was a split primary, requiring each political party to staff their own machines and operations.
Each of the 375 polling locations in Harris County is supposed to have a minimum of three election workers from each party—a judge, an alternate judge and at least one clerk.
In response to an open records request, the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office identified 49 polling locations that did not have enough election workers, including 16 vacant polls with zero workers.
Republicans made up 76% of the understaffed locations with Democrats accounting for the remaining 24%, according to the data.
“The places where the parties were unable to recruit enough election judges on Election Day, what you saw was frustration from voters,” Harris County Election Administrator Isabel Longoria said.
Longoria said at some locations on election day, both parties agreed to help each other cover staffing shortfalls and open voting machines. In other places, she said parties were not willing to cooperate and those voters were told to go to another location to cast their ballot.
“What we saw really was voter frustration of wanting to go to a specific location or being confused as to why one side was open, but the other side wasn't,” Longoria said.
However, the Harris County Republican Party blamed the election administrator’s office for its part in scheduling workers where needed.
“They’re being disingenuous, they’re not telling the truth of what went on,” Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel said.
Siegel said prior to election day, both parties and county officials were using a shared online table to keep track of election workers and locations. But she claimed that county officials did not keep up with that shared document and disorganization resulted in overbooking some locations while leaving others understaffed or vacant.
“I said, ‘you have double booked people in locations we've already assigned people and we have them ready to work,’” Siegel said. “And if they would have moved them, we would have more than enough people than we needed, and they didn't do that.”
The county’s own data show the GOP had some 1,930 election workers signed up. Plenty to cover all polling locations across the county.
“There was nothing went right, nothing went right,” Siegel said.
Other election day problems led to the resignation of election administrator Isabel Longoria, effective in July. The GOP has since sued Harris County for breach of contract and is demanding independent oversight of the election process.
A spokesperson for the Harris County Democratic Party said many of the staffing issues could have been prevented if Republicans had agreed to a joint primary and shared key election personnel, which Democrats fully supported.
“With the impacts of SB1 and continued COVID fears, a joint primary made sense, but the GOP would not support that,” Democratic Party spokesperson Elisa Rochford said.