Harris County officials verified that more than a dozen polling places had trouble printing ballots on Tuesday due to a lack of ballot paper. Both poll workers and voters reported that votes were unavailable for up to two hours at some locations.
Harris County authorities had already been struggling to keep polling booths running correctly, and this problem just worsened things. Late polling-place openings, which made it difficult for some early morning voters to cast their ballots, led voter advocacy groups to successfully petition the court for an additional hour of voting time in 2018, granted. The vote paper problem became public knowledge on Tuesday afternoon, prompting hours of speculation about its cause.
Harris County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum stated Tuesday night, “We are receiving queries from some polling stations that indicate they are running out of paper.” We gave them extra paper when the judges picked up their supplies on Saturday and Sunday. So, we’re taking stock to see what’s up.
Minutes before 7 o’clock, Tatum announced that the county would be supplying paper to “at least 12 to 17” of the 782 locations across the county that had requested it, with deliveries already being confirmed at five locations. His statement ran counter to what his communications team gave the Houston Chronicle at 4:30 p.m. when they said polling places weren’t running out of paper.
Earlier in the evening, the Harris County Republican Party tweeted that as many as 20 polling places had run out of paper. County GOP chair Cindy Siegel said she started getting reports of polling sites running short of ballots early Tuesday morning. She added that it was challenging to reach county election employees, and poll workers and presiding judges were anxious that they wouldn’t have enough.
Siegel’s team mapped out the polling places workers had marked, and they found that the majority were the ones the Republican Party had requested. According to Siegel, some polling places, such as Seabrook and Twin Creeks, had to turn away voters because they ran out of votes. She concluded, “From our perspective,” that “it seems there was an attempt to make sure there were not enough ballots at Republican polls.”
Tatum claimed that ballots had been distributed by county election authorities all day. “I have people out there right now delivering the paper to any site that’s asked,” he stated Tuesday night. All day long, we’ve been making paper deliveries. Some Democratic voting precincts were also affected. At 5:20 p.m., Houstonian Tala Hasbini joined a queue of a dozen other voters at the Freed-Montrose Neighborhood Library to cast her ballot. However, as she got closer to the front of the queue, a poll worker said they were out of paper votes. The staffer suggested that voters wait in line or find another polling place.
Hasbini stayed to vote in her second election despite being a naturalized citizen and a first-generation immigrant. She said about 6:40 p.m. while waiting in line, “It’s closer to my home, and I’m in line already, and it’s good.” I’d want to cast my ballot. Hasbini reported the site was out of ballots at 7:04 p.m., about 90 minutes after she initially indicated they were out. Between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., poll workers at T.H. Rogers School reported there were no paper votes available at the location.
While similar issues occurred at other locations, the required time to receive replacement materials was far shorter. As Alex Solis, presiding judge at Mandarin Immersion Magnet School, reported, paper ballots were temporarily unavailable at his site around 4 or 5 p.m. on Tuesday but were quickly replenished by county workers. As he described it, lines of voters stretched out the door all day, but by the time the polls closed at 8, only a trickle had left the school.
The floods had “swamped everything,” he claimed. We’re doing what we can to assist as many voters as possible