With early voting set to begin next week, Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth on Friday said the county has made adjustments to ensure a smooth election process, including hiring more workers and stocking polling locations with more paper.
The Nov. 7 election will be the first since the state enacted a law that eliminated Harris County’s election administrator position, returning the responsibility of maintaining voter registration rolls and conducting elections to the county tax assessor-collector and county clerk offices. The two offices previously handled election duties before Commissioners Court established the elections administration office in June 2021.
Hudspeth’s remarks came one day after the Texas secretary of state’s office issued a preliminary audit report that found Harris County had “multiple failures” while running the 2022 election that may have prevented people from voting. The office has not yet said when it will release an official report.
The report, which stopped short of saying that election outcomes may have been affected, said that election judge training was insufficient and that several voting locations ran out of ballot paper.
“Harris County clearly had multiple failures conducting the election and violated election law for estimating needed ballot paper. Mistakes like these led to a poorly executed election which left many Harris County residents frustrated and may have prevented them from voting,” Secretary of State Jane Nelson said in a statement. “It is important to talk about these issues now in order to address them before the 2024 election cycle.”
Harris County GOP Chair Cindy Siegel said in a statement that the audit’s findings were “not surprising, but damning nonetheless.”
“This report proves that the way elections were run under an elections administrator was broken. I’m thankful the elections administrator’s office has been eliminated,” the statement said. “Now, instead of voters being beholden to an appointed, unelected bureaucrat who has failed at the job, they’ll have hiring and firing power over the duly elected county clerk who will be running future elections.”
The audit found the county showed 9,000 more registered voters than the statewide system and that nearly 3,600 mail ballots were sent to voters but not reported to the state.
Polling locations also experienced numerous paper jams and power and connectivity issues that resulted in voting machines malfunctioning, the report said. Of the 205 troubleshooting tickets related to those malfunctions, 41 of those issues could have been avoided with better preparation and more training, the auditors found.
The audit also found 38 polling locations experienced a gap of voter check-ins of an hour or more and 27 percent of polling locations failed to return or properly complete necessary paperwork.
“While the inconsistencies may seem minor in comparison to the total number of registered voters and the total number of mail ballot voters, the inconsistencies make it difficult to validate election data and to ensure that eligible voters were able to cast a regular ballot for this election,” the report said.
Mike Doyle, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, said there is no evidence that a “single voter in the entirety of Harris County” was unable to vote.
Harris County uses a county-wide voting system, which allows voters to cast their ballots at any of more than 700 locations. If a person is unable to vote at one location, they could go to another location, often within two miles, to cast their ballot.
“We know that Harris County voters were fully heard, and together rejected the extremist Republican narrative,” he said in a statement.
For years, Harris County has been among the last counties in the state to report results on election night.
Local and state Republican lawmakers criticized the county’s handling of last November’s election after about 20 voting locations ran out of ballot paper and a variety of difficulties resulted in polls being kept open an extra hour. Numerous Republicans claimed the paper shortages were much more widespread and intentionally targeted Republican areas of the county.
The problems prompted 22 losing Republican candidates to file lawsuits contesting their elections, including Alexandra del Moral Mealer, whose challenge to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo fell short by more than 18,000 votes. None of those lawsuits has produced evidence to prove that anyone was unable to vote because of problems at the polls.
Mealer and another candidate since have dropped their lawsuits. A visiting judge from San Antonio is expected to issue a ruling in the first of those lawsuits soon.
Hudspeth said she is confident she is prepared for the election and implemented as many adjustments that were possible within the limited time frame. Those adjustments also align with some of the audit findings.
Hudspeth said one of the first things she did after gaining control of elections was meet with the secretary of state and ask for feedback on how things were run. She said the two have been in “continuous communication” and that she revamped some processes, including election training, based upon the state’s assessment.
Instead of 70 election trainings, the county now will offer 120, Hudspeth said, and each polling location will be stocked with twice the amount of paper as last year.
She also said her office will have additional workers to address technical difficulties at polling places, on top of more than 140 extra people at the NRG Arena counting center that can be deployed to voting locations if needed
“I cannot answer for November 2022 because I did not run that election,” Hudspeth said. “What I can say is that this is a big county. It’s the third largest county in the nation. And there is no such thing as a flawless election, but I can guarantee you that in all my years of working elections, we have conducted successful elections that follow state and federal guidelines.”