HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County’s top election official said they’ll buy more voting machines and expand voter outreach after thousands of Super Tuesday voters experienced waits of up to six hours after polls closed.
County Clerk Dr. Diane Trautman said she wants the extra machines for November’s general election, with the newest ones put into rotation first.
She also said her staff also plans to meet with community groups to identify high-need voter areas.
Trautman said 271,354 voters cast their ballot on Super Tuesday in Harris County, smashing its previous primary Election Day record of 231,560 voters in 2008.
“Yesterday was time-consuming for some people, but it was a win for democracy,” Trautman said.
She also blamed long lines on a large number of last-minute voters, a long ballot and unpredictability from a new countywide voting system, which let voters go to any polling site rather than just their precinct.
Harris County sent out all their available equipment Tuesday to Texas Southern University and several busy Democratic polls. The other machines couldn’t run while the new ones were being hooked up.
The number of machines per site was calculated on past turnout. Trautman said it was tough to predict which sites would be busiest.
“Case in point: TSU,” she said. “If you looked at their early voting numbers, the average daily turnout for TSU during early voting was 50.”
The 2020 primary was the first in Harris County where Republicans and Democrats ran their primaries under the same roof at every polling location.
Even though Democrats outvoted Republicans two-to-one countywide, with some areas closer to three-to-one, each party received the same number of machines at each of the voting centers.
“We did not want to short one party over the other cause how do we know, again, with voting centers, that a big rush isn’t going to come in on the Republican side or the Democratic side,” Trautman said. “That would be discrimination.”
Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party Lillie Schechter had wanted a joint primary, where voters from either party could vote at any available machine.
“It was also written in the contract for the Republican Party that … the machines that were used for the Republican primary could not be programmed for both the Democrat and the Republican side, which meant that if you had a long line on the Democratic side, you couldn’t go over to the Republican side and start voting,” Schechter said.
Chair of the Harris County Republican Party Paul Simpson said his party won’t agree to a joint primary because they don’t want Republicans standing in long lines.
“We suggested having fewer machines on our side and more on their side,” Simpson said. “That is an easy solution. Just look up where people turn up to vote. That is easy to do.”
November’s election will look at lot different. Instead of 400-plus voting centers to choose from, voters will have more than 750 locations. They’ll also wait in one line and can vote at any machine.
Trautman said some of the reported technical problems on Tuesday involved e-poll books timing out and coming back on, which she said is normal. She says the county replaced 10 to 15 possibly faulty voting machines.
Harris County is hoping to eventually replace its current Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines, whose technology is around 20 years old, in time for the May 2021 election.