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Harris County elections administrator disputes state's claim of delay in votes

The Secretary of State said Harris County wouldn't meet their deadline. But Harris County disputes what that deadline is.

HOUSTON — It was a busy Primary Election Night, with nominees moving on to the November general election.  

But the night didn't escape controversy in the state's largest county. The Texas Secretary of State is saying that Harris County’s votes could be delayed.  But Harris County’s election administrator says there’s no delay, and that it was a normal election night.

The whole issue started after the polls closed and the Secretary of State said Harris County would not be able to count up all of the votes within 24 hours of the polls closing, which they say is required by state law and could be punishable as a Class B misdemeanor.

They said the delay was due to damaged ballots.

RELATED: Texas Primary Election results: Key races

Harris County election administrator Isabel Longoria says because their machines print out two ballots, some were getting jammed up or stuck in the machines as people are trying to put them in at the same time. She said those have been flagged for separate review by both Republicans and Democrats and captured on a live video feed. She says everyone’s vote will be counted. 

She also disputes that all votes have to be tallied within 24 hours. She said the law just requires all of the election boxes show up at the central counting location within that time, a goal she says she’ll be able to hit.

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“Certain parties perceived perhaps that meant the 24-hour rule, that we had to count everything in Harris County right now and have it all done within 24 hours,” she said. “That’s never been the case. We’re a big county. We know we’re going to get all those boxes back within the next 24 hours.”

This has drawn criticism from Republicans around the state. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick accused Harris County of trying to crash elections in Texas. Longoria responded by saying the early vote results had already been posted and that Election Day votes were being counted as they were coming in.

In all, Longoria called this an average election night in Harris County…and not a delay.

You can watch the full 11 p.m. news conference with Longoria below.

RELATED: Glitches with voting machines reported at some busy sites Tuesday 

RELATED: Texas Primary Election results: Harris County

Here's the full statement from the Secretary of State's Office:

Under Texas law, all Texas counties are required to report early and Election Day results within 24 hours of polls closing on Election Night. Today, the Texas Secretary of State's office was informed that Harris County election officials would not be able to count and report results for all early and Election Day votes by the statutory deadline of 7:00 P.M. on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Texas Secretary of State John Scott issued the following statement and offered assistance to Harris County in ensuring that all ballots are timely tabulated in accordance with state law:

"We are closely monitoring the progress of ballot tabulation in Harris County to ensure all relevant election laws are followed and that legitimately cast ballots by Harris County voters in both the Democratic and Republican Primary Elections are counted accurately and timely," Secretary Scott said. "Harris County election officials have indicated to our office that the delay in ballot tabulation is due only to damaged ballot sheets that must be duplicated before they can be scanned by ballot tabulators at the central count location. Our office stands ready to assist Harris County election officials, and all county election officials throughout the state, in complying with Texas Election Code requirements for accurately tabulating and reporting Primary Election results. We want to ensure that all Texans who have cast a ballot in this year's Primary Elections can have confidence in the accuracy of results."

Section 66.053 of the Texas Election Code, which has been law since at least 1986, requires that precinct election records be delivered to the appropriate authority, in this case the respective parties holding primary elections, not later than 24 hours after the polls close in each election. Failing to deliver the precinct election returns to the appropriate authority by the deadline is a Class B Misdemeanor.

Section 65.002 of the Texas Election Code, which has been law since 2009, requires that the counting of ballots be conducted continuously until all ballots are counted.

Section 31.005 of the Texas Election Code, which has been law since at least 1986, empowers the Texas Secretary of State to order a person performing official functions in the administration of any part of the electoral processes to correct offending conduct if the secretary determines that the person is exercising the powers vested in that person in a manner that delays or cancels an election that the person does not have specific statutory authority to delay or cancel, unless acting under an order of a court of competent jurisdiction.

While Texas law allows provisional ballots and corrected mail-in ballots to be counted up to six days after Election Day, early votes and Election Day votes must be counted within 24 hours of the polls closing on Election Day (Sec. 66.053).

To view Election Night Returns as counties report their results through the Texas Secretary of State's portal, click here.

Learn more about what to expect on Election Night in Texas.

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