So what happened with election night reporting this time?

The Chron turns its attention to how long it took for election results to get posted on Tuesday night.

Since last year, Harris County has purchased a new fleet of voting machines, created a new elections administration office and hired a new executive to run it.

Why then, many residents wondered, did Tuesday’s low-turnout election see the same delays in vote counting that plagued the county in the past?

By 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, just 60 percent of votes had been tallied for the ballot, which included state constitutional amendments, school board races and a handful of municipal contests. The county elections administrator’s office did not publish the final unofficial tally until 8:30 a.m., 13 ½ hours after the polls closed.

Election Administrator Isabel Longoria blamed the delay on an “extremely unlikely” glitch in the backup power supply at the vote count headquarters at occurred around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. That triggered a warning on the new voting system, which is sensitive to anything that may resemble a cyberattack, though it is not connected to the internet.

Longoria ordered a test of the system, which took about two hours and delayed the counting of ballots cast during the early vote period, which under Texas law cannot be counted until Election Day. That, in turn, caused delays when election judges began returning Election Day ballot boxes after polls closed at 7 p.m., she said.

“I get that it’s frustrating … but when you trip your new system, you want to be thorough,” Longoria said. “That’s the most responsible thing to do as an elections administrator, so there are no questions later about why you did not stop when you had the chance to double-check.”

Longoria said she does not anticipate the issue in future elections. Higher-turnout contests are no more difficult, she said, since they have the same number of polling places and memory cards that must be processed.


Tuesday’s delays were unacceptable to Republican Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who last year opposed the creation of an independent elections office and the hiring of Longoria as its first leader. Cagle said Wednesday the county should revert to the old model, in which the county clerk oversees elections and the county tax assessor-collector maintains the voter roll.

“We have an unelected bureaucrat who was appointed by three members of Commissioners Court,” Cagle said. “There’s no accountability to the public.”

Commissioners Court last year created the election administration office on a party-line vote. Longoria was hired by a committee that included Hidalgo, the county party chairs, tax assessor and county clerk.

Cagle said the three Democratic members of the court, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, bear responsibility for ensuring Wednesday’s delays do not happen again.

Marc Campos, a longtime Houston Democratic strategist, wrote on his blog Wednesday morning that he “expect(ed) outrage” out of the trio.

“This is not about every election watch party that was ruined last night across Harris County,” Campos wrote on his blog. “This is about botching the reporting of election results and the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office folk’s epic failure.”

Hidalgo said in a statement that while running elections is never easy, the county needs to identify any issues with Tuesday’s elections and correct them for the future. Ellis echoed that sentiment, saying he trusted that Longoria’s team acted in the interests of security and accuracy.

Garcia said the elections office needs to improve communication with the public and anticipate problems before they occur.

“Not getting timely results is unfair to voters and the candidates, and I expect this will be a one-time glitch rather than a continuance of the reputation Harris County earned when elections were run by Republicans like Stan Stanart,” Garcia said in a statement.

See here and here for the background. I’m going to bullet point this one.

– Just as a reminder, the elections administrator idea was first put forward by Ed Emmett back in 2010. Most counties in Texas have them now. Harris was very much an outlier with its Tax Assessor/County Clerk approach to handling voter registration and running elections. Harris County followed state law in creating the position and putting oversight on it.

– The first thing we need is a clear and publicly-available explanation of what exactly happened, why it happened (if we can determine that), and what we are doing to prevent it from happening again. Was the complete reboot necessary, or could that have been skipped? That glitch in the backup power supply may have been extremely unlikely, but given that it did happen, will there be some further mitigation built in to the system now?

This is basic stuff, and speaking as someone who has worked for a big company for a long time, it’s a good way to learn from experience and maintain confidence in one’s own processes. Campos worries that this episode will cause voters to question the capability of Democrats to govern Harris County. Transparency about what happened and what is being done about it is the best antidote for that.

– Something that Commissioner Garcia mentioned but has otherwise been overlooked is that there was inadequate communication from the Elections Administrator’s office on Tuesday night, while we were all waiting for the results. There was the “go watch the Astros” tweet and a couple of Facebook Live videos on the Harris Votes Facebook page, but I went to bed Tuesday night not really knowing what was happening, and I believe that was true for a lot of people. That’s a failure on Isabel Longoria’s part, and I believe it has contributed to the continuing criticism.

People have a reasonable expectation to see at least the early voting results at 7 PM or shortly thereafter. When that doesn’t happen, for whatever the reason, there has to be a clear and easy to find explanation for it. A message on the HarrisVotes website and at the top of the Election Day results page would have sufficed. I looked to Twitter because that’s usually where the breaking news is, but there was nothing to really answer my questions. Maybe those Facebook Live videos would have told me what I wanted to know, but who wants to sit through a video like that when a couple of lines of text that can be readily shared elsewhere will do? I’m sure the Elections office was busy trying to work through the problems so they could get the results out, but they really needed to be letting the rest of us know what was going on and when we might expect an update of the situation. It was the lack of relevant information that made the Tuesday night experience as frustrating as it was. That’s an error that cannot happen again.

– Also, why was there a location that was still voting at 8 PM? What happened there? That needs to be explained as well.

We need to know what happened. We should have known more on Tuesday night, but regardless of that we need to know it now. I hope that process has begun with the Commissioners Court meeting from yesterday. It won’t be done until I can find and link to a report about it.

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10 Responses to So what happened with election night reporting this time?

  1. Frederick says:

    So the elections administrator’s sole focus was ensuring the integrity of the election results. Check.

    Election results were accurately tabulated and reported. Check.

    Everyone else with their underwear in a wad because the results weren’t available at 7:01pm need to simply chillax. What is more important to you….exactness in a democracy or your insatiable need to have everything immediately?

    Disappointed to see Cagle with his weak and lame “unelected bureaucrat” line of attack.

  2. voter_worker says:

    @Frederick agree 100%. It looks to me like an almost perfect demonstration of the professionalism and competency of the EA staff, and I thank them for their dedication and hard work.

  3. Ross says:

    The folks complaining that the results weren’t immediately available were whining. If proposals I’ve seen in various places to eliminate electronic voting machines and require hand counting of paper ballots ever get put in place, it will be days before we get results.

  4. Mainstream says:

    I could not disagree more with the comments above. 1. Why did we select an election system so sensitive that a flick of the light switch requires a 3 hour reboot process? 2. Why was there no back up system for power for such a critical operation? 3. Why was there a 2 hour line to return ballots at the central counting station? 4. Why was there no communication to explain waiting until 10 p.m. to post the early vote results? 5. Why was training so pitiful that 8 election judges did not know to return the correct equipment at the end of the day? 6. Why did it take until 8 a.m. to get in the last ballot box? Do we not know the phone number or address of each election judge?

    The new Election Administrator is a disaster.

  5. Frderick says:


    Answer one question:

    Are the election results accurate?

  6. voter_worker says:

    @Mainstream 1. Nowhere have I read that a determination has been made that a “sensitive” system was derailed by a flick of a light switch. I’d be interested in seeing that if you have a link. 2. Does a backup power source override a micro interruption of the primary power supply? I don’t know. Redundancy is important, so this would be a valid criticism if there was no functioning redundancy in place. 3. This sounds like a reasonable issue to question, but in no way does it affect the voters’ experience of the election. 4. Communication of matters of concern is critically important and must be under constant evaluation, so yes. 5. As with any failure of personnel to perform duties, a review of the circumstances is called for. 6. Again, one presumes that the EA will determine what went wrong and how to assure that it doesn’t happen again.

    While I agree that there were failures that can and I trust will be rectified by evaluation and application of corrective procedures, I disagree that any of these occurrences rise even remotely to the level of “disaster”. As far as any of us know, the entire system functioned perfectly except for these anomalies. The system now is light-years ahead of where it was ten years ago in terms of user friendliness, instant access to voting locations and wait times on one’s smartphone, tracking the status of one’s mail-in ballot, ability to vote at any polling place on election day, in-person voters having in-hand a printout of their voted ballot, up-to-date touchscreen voting machines, excellent online sample ballot information…did I leave anything out? Yes I did: there were no jurisdictional errors which, when they happen, result in giving affected voters an incorrect ballot. That is in my opinion an event which can accurately be described as a disaster. There are a few others and they didn’t happen, either. This is why I am arguing that for all of us who are not candidates, activists and/or data wonks, it was a flawless election and again I thank the EA staff and everyone working at the locations for making it happen. I’m willing to trust that the EA will correct these issues, re-arrange the voters into all the new districts, issue the next mass-mailout of new voting certificates and be prepared for the upcoming party primary election.

  7. Mainstream says:

    Frederick, yes. I have heard no reports of voters getting the wrong ballot or anyone voting who should not have. There may be a mistake, here or there, but that can happen with any election system or administrator.

  8. Chris Daniel says:

    Just so everyone knows and is clear, the “power supply” problem was that they plugged into non-working outlets at NRG. No one bothered to do a simple check that they were working. Further, the backup batteries only had 90 mins to them. The L&A checks should have started at noon. The “unlikely glitches” were from poor training despite having already used the equipment in two prior elections. So despite a very short ballot, they had to start after 5pm to overcome “glitches”, then had to start over after the backup batteries ran out. This is a short summary on just THAT issue of late EV returns, never mind the many many other non-insignificant problems that happened on election day. This is all incompetence. Longoria should be replaced. Even Trautman did a better job then this EA.

  9. Sydney Bailey says:

    I agree that there needs to be some clear answers – it might very well be that it was a small thing that needed to be fixed, but we won’t know without some more transparency.

    It’s also not a good look that Longoria said it was because of the line (which has no affect on results) and then changed – she should be accountable for being dishonest.

    Also, there were several other issues – last minute polls closing, several opening late, lack of public communication about the new machines. Those are also things that are not a huge problem for this but would be with a larger turnout.

  10. C.L. says:

    This is so much ado about nothing. 50, maybe even 20 years ago we would have been waiting on a gaggle of blue hairs gathering up wooden boxes with handwritten ballots in ’em, taking God knows how long to tabulate the results, and in 2021 folks are bent because ‘gasp’ you might not know who won an election in which less than 10% of the eligible voters actually cast a ballot…by 9pm.

    Good grief we’ve gotten soft and so, so easily triggered.

    Mr. Daniel, sounds like you have some pent up animosity against the party you lost against…

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