Friday Feb 03, 2023

Nearly week after primaries, election troubles continue with uncounted mail-in ballots, late equipment returns – Houston Chronicle


Harris County election officials must still tally an additional 10,000 mail-in ballots, nearly a week after polls closed in a primary election plagued with problems, including hourslong delays tracked back to a Baytown precinct judge’s failure to return a piece of voting equipment.

Over 10,000 mail-in ballots — about 6,000 cast by Democratic voters and about 4,000 by Republicans — were scanned by the Central County Committee but never added into the final results. The error occurred between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Wednesday, Harris County Elections officials announced late Saturday.

“We have reached out to and are working in coordination with the Secretary of State’s Office as we investigate the missteps that took place in this process,” officials said. “While we understand the seriousness of this error, the ability to identify and correct this issue is a result of a lengthy, rigorous process and is a positive example of the process ultimately working as it should.”

The Secretary of State’s office said they notified Harris County officials of the oversight on Friday after they noticed a discrepancy on the election night reconciliation form, which indicated a difference of 10,072 between the number of ballots counted and the number of eligible votes cast.

“We agree that this is the process working as it should, and we note that it’s only because this Election Night reconciliation form is now required for all 254 counties that we were able to identify the discrepancy and work with the county to find out exactly what happened,” said secretary of state spokesman Sam Taylor.

On Sunday, Harris County election officials also confirmed that a precinct judge at the Baytown Junior High polling place failed to return one of four pieces of voting equipment to the election center directly after the polls closed, contributing to delays that caused the final tally to come in 30 hours after the polls closed.

That tally did not include the 10,000 mail-in ballots that were missed.

Judges are required to return all pieces of equipment immediately after the polls close, according to Harris County Elections spokeswoman Leah Shah. When the Baytown precinct judge failed to return a “scan” — a “secured piece of equipment that holds mechanical ballots/votes” — after numerous requests from the elections office, a Precinct 3 constable’s deputy was sent to their home to retrieve it.

Those votes have since been processed, and elections officials stressed that the integrity of those votes was not at risk.

“While delays are inconvenient and require a significant amount of resources to remedy, the security of the ballot is at no point in question,” Shah said. “From the moment a judge takes possession of the election equipment prior to election day, to the moment they return equipment on election night, there is a chain of custody and numerous safeguards in place to ensure the security of the ballot.”

The missteps are the latest in a series of problems involving last week’s primary. Over 1,600 ballot sheets were damaged on Election Day, slowing down the counting process, and the county’s election website map, which shows voters where they can cast their ballots, went dark for 90 minutes right before the polls opened Tuesday.

Some voting sites were also plagued by faulty machines and staffing issues, and just after polls closed on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Scott released a statement saying that Harris County Elections had requested an extension to the 24-hour deadline. Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria has disputed that …….


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