Harris County primary election report cites poor training and lack of funding for vote count delays

A new report on the Harris County primary election describes a disorganized department plagued by staffing shortages, inadequate training and a lack of funding.

The March 2022 primary elections in Harris County sparked controversy and multiple lawsuits when Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria announced that her department not being able to count the votes within the statutory deadlines. Then, three days after telling a district court judge the count was over, Longoria informed the public that nearly 10,000 ballots had been missed counts.

Following the controversy, Longoria submitted a resignation effective July 1 and Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) has called for an audit. Instead, in a 3-2 partisan vote, the court of commissioners approved a $125,000 no-tender contract with a marketing and research firm. Fors Marsh Group (FMG) to conduct a third-party evaluation of county primary election procedures.

FMG, which claims its primary goal is to reduce inequality and improve lives through issue and policy advocacy, recently submitted an unofficial first draft to the county. Their report details the results of “in-depth interviews” with officials from the county’s Office of the Elections Administrator (OAS) and election technology provider Hart InterCivic. They also conducted a survey of election judges and election officials and formed focus groups with a total of 23 election officials and judges.

In addition, the report includes an analysis of OAS Calls and Communications Log data and comparative information from the Tarrant County Elections Administrator. Heider Garcia.

Among the findings, FMG reported that the transition to new voting equipment purchased in January 2021 created multiple issues, despite this being the sixth election using the new machines. The county apparently did not have adequate space or dedicated power sources for the equipment, although Hart InterCivic “provided detailed storage requirements” during the bidding process and then held a ” training at the warehouse level”.

“However, the Elections Office has not, to date, acquired storage to meet the minimum requirements it has provided,” FMG wrote. “According to Hart, ‘the result of this inadequate storage space is general disorganization and the inability of the election office to properly execute pre- and post-election procedures.'”

FMG reported that the county’s transition from using the elected county clerk and assessor-collector to administer elections has created staffing headaches, since only workers who were assigned full-time to Electoral responsibilities could be transferred to the new OAS created in 2020. Longoria said it needs to create new positions and organizational charts and says it still does not have enough staff in the March 2022 elections.

As a result, existing staff worked long hours and multiple tasks, which delayed material delivery and counting procedures.

The FMG report also notes that many election officials were recruited just weeks before the elections and that the OAE training director had not produced a training manual by the end of January 2022. 66% of officials voters said the training was thorough enough, while 35% of new workers said they were not sufficiently prepared. Longoria also suggested that changes to the Texas election code imposing stricter identification requirements for mail-in ballots contributed to delays in creating training materials.

In addition to worker training, FMG suggested a need for more voter education, but wrote that “much of the funding originally earmarked for education and outreach had to be reallocated as part of the process. internal office budgeting to meet other pressing electoral needs. ”

Although Tarrant County has also struggled with electoral material and managementFMG included suggestions from EA Garcia that the issues could be addressed through more hands-on training for workers and media and community events to educate voters.

FMG has not yet completed its assessment and expects to provide a second report later this year.

Earlier this week, the county’s five-member Election Commission voted unanimously to replace Longoria with Clifford Tatum, an election consultant and attorney who previously served as executive director of elections for the District of Columbia and general counsel for the Commission on Elections. United States electoral assistance. Tatum also served as acting director of the Georgia State Division of Elections and the Georgia Secretary of State’s Department of Legal Affairs.

But before Harris County can make a formal offer, Tatum must move to Texas and register to vote in the state. Longoria’s salary was $190,000 a year, and the commission did not make public Tatum’s salary offer.

While Tatum touts extensive experience in election administration, some critics have noted complaints about his the management of elections in the past.

Once Tatum takes over as OAS director, he will have a narrow window to prepare the department for early voting, which begins Oct. 24.

Since 2020, Harris County’s budget for elections has exploded. The commissioners awarded $27.7 million that year while accepting private grants from nearly $10 millionand later moved another $3.3 million county provident funds to the OAS.

In January 2021, the Court of Commissioners approved the spending of $54 million on new Hart InterCivic voting equipment. Commissioners approved an OAS operating budget from March 2021 to February 2022 of $13.36 million and accepted another $1 million in private grants just before a state law banning the practice took effect last year. A complete summary of OEA expenditures during this period is not yet available.

In response to the FBG report, Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) suggested that the OAS might need additional funding. Ramsey called for returning election responsibilities to the elected county clerk.

“It is clear that our elections have suffered from poor leadership and a lack of experience in managing elections,” Ramsey said in a statement to The Texan.

“One actionable measure for the Court of Commissioners is to refer responsibilities to the offices of the County Clerk and the Collector of Taxes. The majority of the Court took the responsibilities away from these elected officials, gave them to an appointed official who could not perform his duties, and now we are being asked to fix it when the power now rests with the Electoral Commission, headed by Judge Lina. Hidalgo and the election administrator.

“Voters should elect who runs the elections, not the Court or the Electoral Commission. We are four months away from the next elections. I predict disaster.

Texas Secretary of State Phase II forensic audit of the 2020 election is still ongoing and results are expected later this year.


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