The first primary election day for the 2022 midterm elections did not go well in Texas, at least in the state’s largest county. Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria reported that 10,000 mail-in ballots were not properly counted in last week’s primary election in Houston. Calls for her to be fired continue to grow.
The position of Elections Administrator didn’t exist in Harris County, the third-largest county in the country, until 2020. The position was created by Harris County Commissioners Court on a 3-2 party-line vote. At the time, Republicans criticized the move, arguing that it would create a new powerful role with no accountability to voters. And, here we are. Voters still don’t have final numbers in some primary races one week later.
Longoria notified county and state officials that she would not meet the state’s law that requires counties to report election results within 24 hours of polls closing. There is an exception for provisional and mail-in ballots which can be counted up to six days after an election. As the delay became apparent, the county Republican Party chairwoman, Cindy Siegal, called the election “an unmitigated disaster.” “Today we’ve seen what happens when you put the wrong person in the job,” Siegel said. “This election was an unmitigated disaster.” She’s not wrong.
A lawsuit was filed by the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP) last Wednesday asking that election records be impounded since the state deadline was missed. Additional lawsuits are being considered.
In the suit, the GOP claims that there were issues at the polls that affected votes. The document claimed some voters were able to submit the first page of their ballots but were unable to successfully transmit the second page. Other allegations in the lawsuit claim election officials did not properly test voting machines ahead of time, resulting in “inoperable scanning equipment in some voting locations.”
In a Wednesday statement, Siegel blamed County Judge Lina Hidalgo for the alleged failures. “This fiasco has been a complete failure on behalf of Democrat County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s unelected, unaccountable Elections Administrator who is tasked with managing our elections and was sold to voters as a way to make our elections more efficient in Harris County,” Siegel said. “The fault lies with Lina Hidalgo and the management of this primary that both parties contracted the Harris County Elections Administrator to run.”
Harris County GOP attorney Steven Mitby announced Thursday that he is exploring additional legal actions in response to the incident. “The election didn’t just go awry Tuesday night,” Mitby said. “It went awry in the months before that when the planning process took place when Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo appointed an elections administrator who could not get the job done. As a result of that failure… we had the worst election disaster in Texas history.”
Siegel’s request for impounding election results was dismissed and the counting of ballots resumed two hours after it stopped. Unofficial elections results were posted after midnight on Thursday. “The court understands that we abided by the deadline that she provided and the political parties have agreed to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit,” said Harris County Director of Voting Beth Stevens. “Director of Voting”. Are you getting the picture that not only has Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat, increased bureaucracy at the County Clerk’s office but the people in the positions are unable to show competency in their roles. Is this the new normal for elections – “finding” uncounted ballots after deadlines and stopping, then re-starting, ballot counting? It’s no wonder so many people believe claims of election fraud.
After the admission that 10,000 mail-in ballots were not properly counted became known over the past weekend, calls began for Longoria’s termination. The 10,000 ballots included 6,000 Democrat ballots and 4,000 Republican ballots. County Republican and Democrat Parties are calling for investigations and corrections to be made. HCRP wants Longoria fired.
“The Democrats would tell you last week that we were fear-mongering and that all the votes were correct, and there were no problems,” Republican Party Chairwoman Cindy Siegel said Monday. “Late Saturday, although we weren’t notified, there was an, ‘oops, we found 10,000 unexplained, unrecorded mail-in ballots.’ There are serious problems with this process.”
The county Democratic Party agreed that a thorough review of what went wrong is needed. Chairman Odus Evbagharu said that investigation will determine whether Longoria should remain in the role.
“There has not been any skirting of party responsibility, and we have been completely transparent in our desire to dig into the details of what went wrong and identify how to make corrections moving forward,” Evbhagharu said in a statement.
Democratic and Republican primary candidates filed a lawsuit alleging poll workers were not given proper supplies. Some voting machines malfunctioned and that lead to damaged ballots.
Longoria’s first primary election was indeed a failure. Prior to 2020 and the creation of her position, the county clerk and the tax assessor-collector, both elected positions, shared election duties.
This was the first primary election in Harris County since Commissioners Court established an independent elections administration office in 2020. Previously, the elected county clerk and tax assessor-collector shared election duties. Complaints of delayed elections results were common for years in Harris County but there was never a time when the county missed the 24-hour reporting deadline. Longoria’s incompetence is unprecedented.
The county judge, county clerk, tax assessor-collector and the two party chairs comprise the five-member body called the Harris County Elections Commission that oversees the office. Only the commission can replace Longoria. The only Republican on the commission is the GOP Party chair. So far the Democrats are remaining non-committal on firing Longoria. Go figure, right?
Today the County Commissioners Court will meet. A Republican commissioner has placed an item on the agenda to discuss the “primary election fiasco.” Action items include urging the termination of Longoria, and going back to putting election duties with the clerk and tax assessor in charge, as well as ordering an audit of primary results.
The Democrat experiment into increasing the bureaucracy of Harris County elections failed miserably. Longoria is not the person needed in this position, if the position is to be retained. Democrats control Harris County. I hesitate to show some optimism that the coming red wave in the midterm elections will oust some of the Democrats running the county. At least this failure was so embarrassing and obvious it brought together Republicans and Democrats together in calling for an investigation and changes to be made.