The Harris County Republican Party has opted out of Harris County's election night drop-off program, according to a May 20 news release from the Harris County Elections Administrator's Office. As a result, Harris County residents may not receive final unofficial results from the May 24 primary runoff election until May 25.
According to the release, Harris County Elections partners with county law enforcement agencies to conduct both early voting and election night drop-offs.
"This has proven an effective ballot transport process, while also providing much-needed relief on the last night of early voting for election judges who have worked tirelessly for weeks on end," the release reads. "As a result, Harris County Elections expanded this countywide partnership to election night—with law enforcement and deputized full-time county staff undertaking the crucial step of securing and brining voting equipment from the polling locations to central count. This also reduces the number of vehicles delivering equipment that elections staff must process by half."
However, as a regularly scheduled bipartisan planning call May 18, the Harris County Republican Party stated it had "opted out" all the party's appointed election night judges from the drop-off process. In a May 19 news release, Cindy Siegel, the Harris County Republican Party chair, said the party instead instructed their election judges to deliver all ballots and equipment to the Harris County Central Counting Station in person, citing concerns with chain of custody. The change was made after party officials consulted with legal counsel and the Secretary of State Elections Division, according to the release.
"We do not want any of our election judges to violate the Election Code, resulting in a situation where the performance of their duties is questioned," Siegel said in a statement. "There are several highly contested races on the Republican Party ballot. We do not want any of the election results in a close race to be challenged by a candidate due to ballot chain of custody problems. It's imperative that the Harris County Elections Administrator's Office provide a fully staffed and fully trained team to receive ballots in a secure, orderly, professional and transparent fashion. Ensuring the integrity and accuracy of the election process in the Harris County Republican Party is top priority."
In response, Harris County Elections has since moved all election night operations from the Election Technology Center to NRG Arena, in anticipation of possibly processing twice the number of vehicles.
"A change this significant and this late in the game throws chaos into a carefully orchestrated system and seriously threatens our ability to process results," Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said in a statement. "[The Harris County Republican Party] has been aware of these plans since early April and voiced no concerns over this plan until days before the election. I want to make it very clear that these sudden and shocking actions will result in a slower count, straining our resources and ensuring that final unofficial results will not be released until well into Wednesday."
As of May 20, Harris County Elections reported 40 Republican judges—or about 15% of all Harris County Republican judges—have opted back into the drop-off plans. According to the May 20 release, each judge has the right to do what they believe is in the best interest of their polling location.
"We appreciate and value each of our election judges. This program was created in response to their feedback and in a sincere effort to reduce the strain we know they feel from this challenging public service," Longoria said in a statement. "Their continued support of this process further proves their dedication to a free and fair democracy."
Additionally, the May 20 news release noted the Harris County Republican Party also stated that it would create a response team to address technology problems encountered with Harris County voting system equipment. According to the May 20 release, the Texas Election Code does not contemplate repair, maintenance or operation of voting system equipment by anyone other than a voting system technician, who as part of their vocation is trained to operate voting system equipment.
"In accordance with the Texas Election Code, the [elections administrator's] office will not release voting system equipment owned by Harris County to any person who is not a voting system technician approved by the [elections administrator's] office," the release reads. "Any action taken to assemble, operate or repair voting systems by unauthorized persons can impair the equipment and impact not just this election, but future elections. The parties and election judges should immediately [advise] the [elections administrator's] trained team of all problems so that its voting system technicians can promptly address and resolve the issues."
As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, Longoria announced her resignation—which will be effective July 1—on March 8, following several issues with the March 1 primary elections. A motion to fire Longoria before her resignation takes effect July 1 failed in a split vote at Harris County Commissioners Court March 22. The court is currently working to find a replacement for Longoria ahead of the July 1 deadline.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on election day May 24. Through Harris County's countywide polling place program, Harris County voters may cast their ballot at any polling location countywide. To view a list of election day polling locations, click here. To view Harris County's Republican sample ballot for the May 24 primary runoffs, click here. To view Harris County's Democratic sample ballot for the May 24 primary runoffs, click here.