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New independent report highlights what went wrong in Harris Co. March Primary

The 83-page draft report points to an underfunded and understaffed Elections Office as part of the problem leading to slow reporting of results and uncounted ballots

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — A new independent elections report is revealing more about the problems that plagued the March Primary in Harris County.

The draft of the report was released just days after Harris County named a new elections administrator. 

RELATED: Harris County names Clifford Tatum as new elections administrator

"I agree with the key findings of this Marsh group assessment," said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. 

The 83-page initial draft sheds light on what happened behind the scenes during the primary. On election night, initial results weren't available until 30 hours after polls closed and 9,996 ballots were not included in that count. 

It all led to former Election Administrator Isabel Longoria's resignation. 

In the report, she described an underfunded and understaffed Elections Office. On the day of the election, Longoria said a few elections workers ended up getting sick due to exhaustion and some even went to the hospital

"Democracies are expensive," said Ellis. 

Commissioner Ellis says the report makes it clear that Harris County will need to commit to more funding. He and Commissioner Adrian Garcia are on board. 

"We are working to make sure all those recommendations are adhered to," said Garcia.

The report points to multiple reasons like issues with new voting machines, the creation of a new Elections Office, the pandemic and a lack of funding for training or voter education, to explain why there were issues during the March Primary. 

"We ought to do as much as we can to educate voters so there's a clear understanding of how the new machines work," said Ellis. 

Republicans on the Commissioner's Court also reacted to the report. Pct. 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey sent us the following statement: 

"We successfully ran elections before the radical implementation of an Elections Administrator. Commissioners Court can choose to return responsibilities back over to the County Clerk and Tax Assessor Collector offices immediately, because they’re experienced and know what works. We went from elected to selected, someone not accountable directly to the voters. The responsibilities are now with the Elections Commission, led by Judge Lina Hidalgo, and the Elections Administrator. The voters should be electing who runs the elections, not the Court or the Elections Commission. We are less than four months away from the next election, and I have deep concerns about how this will all work out."

Pct. 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle sent us the following statement: 

“Many problems and issues exist that can only be resolved by giving the job back to the duly elected county clerk and tax assessor-collector who did not have these issues when they ran the elections.” 

Their Democratic colleagues on Commissioner's Court disagree. 

"When you have elected officials running elections, that is an inherent conflict of interest," said Garcia. "I don't understand why they would support that."

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Clifford Tatum will be Harris County's next elections administrator. He's set to take over the job in mid-August with less than 3 months to go before early voting gets underway. It'll be his job to implement this report's recommendations before the midterms. 

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure people have confidence in our system," said Ellis. 

KHOU 11 News reached out to Judge Lina Hidalgo's office today for her reaction to this report. Her office said she was not available.

The final version of this report will be sent to commissioners at the end of August and is expected to include more recommendations for the court to consider.

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