HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — The Harris County GOP is calling for the resignation or firing of Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria following the primary election held on Tuesday.
Harris County Republican Party Chairman Cindy Siegel made the comments during a press conference Thursday, several hours after the ballot count was completed just after midnight.
Siegel described Longoria as being the “least qualified” person to run the primary election and that she had no experience and credentials.
“Today you have seen what happens when you put the wrong person in the job,” she said. “This election was an unmitigated disaster.”
Longoria didn't respond directly to the calls for her resignation or firing, but a spokesperson in her office released a statement Thursday afternoon, several hours after the GOP's press conference.
"The Harris County Office of Elections Administrator is committed to providing essential voting and voter registration services to the residents of Harris County; increasing access to the vote and ensuring that every eligible resident is able to cast a ballot and that ballot is counted accurately and securely. We have always worked with the judges and commissioners court office to continue improving the essential service that we provide and will continue to do so analyzing every election for process improvements and implementing and creating national best practices."
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo didn't respond directly to the GOP's calls either but did say she wanted to learn more about issues.
“State leadership lost their moral authority on elections the day they bought into the Big Lie and used it as the basis to pass SB1. Still, that does not absolve our own elections administrator from being expected to run a smooth and efficient election for our voters. I am eager to get a full accounting from the elections department, including any state, local, and party-level issues.”
On Tuesday night, Longoria said the election counting process was typical and said there weren't any delays.
According to her website, Longoria’s previous work experience includes political campaigns and working for elected officials in the Houston area. She has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Trinity University and a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas.
We also talked to the chairman of the Harris County Democratic party. Chairman Odus Evbagharu said everyone needs to stop and breathe, then look at ways to work together.
"I will say that there's things that we can improve on," he said. "We're all frustrated. We all need to talk to each other. We need to talk to our election workers. We need to talk to the (Elections Administrator's) office, I talked to Cindy, the chair of the Republican Party, quite often. I know we're going to be working on solutions together. And so what we've got to do is we got to do a comprehensive audit of what went on Tuesday and early vote and then go from there."
Jason Whitely of our sister station, WFAA in Dallas, spoke to Texas Secretary of State John B. Scott about the the Harris County election back-and-forth. Scott said even if there were issues, the system doesn't need an overhaul.
"We don't want to do anything that overcorrect because we don't want to lose sight that 253 counties in this most recent election were able to do their election get their returns done in the AM of the morning after the election was over," he said. "I think we need to look into how many ballots can be stuck into a scanner because I think that was an issue in the counties that had two different ballots that the voter had to use in a machine. So I think having technology changes so hat the voter is only dealing with one piece of paper is a fix that needs to take place."
On Wednesday, the GOP filed a petition Wednesday night over the ballot counting and referred to the primary election as “fiasco” and “complete failure.”
The petition, which was filed at 5:18 p.m., aimed at impounding election records, meaning the GOP wanted the court to seize the votes that had not yet been counted.
"We’re asking the judge to supervise the process. To take the ballots, make sure they’re secure, make sure we have a full chain of custody, and make sure those ballots get counted the way they’re supposed to," Mitby said Wednesday night.
A judge later decided against the impound and let the vote count resume, nearly two hours after it was halted.
Harris County Elections posted the final unofficial results at 12:37 a.m. Thursday. Leah Shah, spokesperson for the elections office tells KHOU 11 News, that the vote-counting wrapped up a little before that.
“Our lawsuit pressured them to get job done in the wee hours of the morning and not delay this process any longer,” Mitby said Thursday. “We're looking at next steps to look at our legal actions so this doesn't happen again... because of the incompetence of the Harris County Elections.”
What's happening with the Harris County vote count?
According to the Harris County GOP, there were "serious" issues at the polls that are affecting the count.
Their petition read, “On Primary Election Day, the Republican party experienced irregularities that affected votes legitimately cast by its voters. For example, some voters were able to successfully submit their votes for the first page of their ballot but were unable to submit their votes for the second page of their ballot.”
The petition also alleged other issues, such as machines they say weren’t properly tested, resulting in the Republican party having inoperable scanning equipment in some locations.
Harris County election officials confirmed there were some issues at the polls based on voters putting both of their voting sheets into the new election systems, causing paper jams.
Officials said those damaged ballots had to be tabulated by hand, which takes more time.
"The entire state is going to be moving to a paper-based system within the next few years because it is required by law now. So what we’re seeing is us doing our checks and balances, crossing our T's and dotting our I's to make sure every vote is properly brought in, presented to central count, and counted appropriately," said Beth Stevens with the Harris County Elections.
The Harris County GOP claims county election officials were not prepared for this election and issued a statement blaming Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
"This fiasco has been a complete failure on behalf of Democrat County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s unelected, unaccountable Elections Administrator who is tasked with managing our elections and was sold to voters as a way to make our elections more efficient in Harris County. The fault lies with Lina Hidalgo and the management of this primary that both parties contracted the Harris County Elections Administrator to run."
Harris County Democrats said it's frustrating to see everyone finger-pointing and said when you have new machines and new laws, there will be kinks. But they're confident that all ballots would be counted.
Read the entire petition from the Harris County COP below:
Below is the full statement from the Harris County GOP:
"We have received countless complaints yesterday and today coming from voters and presiding judges and election workers across the county of voting machines that were not delivered or delivered late Tuesday morning; machines that were not operational; election workers not adequately trained; the wrong paper ballot size being delivered to certain polls and the wrong ballots being delivered to some voters.
"This fiasco has been a complete failure on behalf of Democrat County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s unelected, unaccountable Elections Administrator who is tasked with managing our elections and was sold to voters as a way to make our elections more efficient in Harris County. The fault lies with Lina Hidalgo and the management of this primary that both parties contracted the Harris County Elections Administrator to run.
"Yesterday, the Elections Administrator said during a conference call with both political parties that she would not be able to meet the 24-hour deadline for vote count because it would take at least '500 hours' to conduct the count and she needed both parties to agree to extending the deadline. Upon the conclusion of Early Voting, there were over 1,000 'damaged ballots'; that required human intervention in order to properly count the votes. Those came from only 90 early voting locations. Other counties across the country using the same machines have not experienced the problems that Harris County has faced. Today, it is still not clear based upon the reports from voters how many actual ‘damaged’ ballots resulted from Election Day.
"The Elections Administrator is now stating that they will complete the count by the 7:00 pm deadline tonight. However, the Harris County Republican Party still has serious concerns about the number of voter complaints of wrong ballots being issued and damaged ballots from our voters and election workers that need to be addressed before the vote is finalized. To that extent we will take what steps we deem necessary to ensure the integrity of the election process and that these serious issues are addressed prior to the May 24 Primary Runoff.
"What happened during this primary in terms of running an election is not acceptable. Although the Republican turnout showed the commitment and motivation of our voters, our number one priority is to have an election where our voters can cast their vote at a functioning polling location and our election workers and volunteers can do their job. Our goal has always been to ensure voters have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote and that every vote is properly recorded and counted. That is why we believe there needs to be significant changes in how Harris County conducts elections going forward before another vote is cast."