Congressmen Call on Feds to Investigate Harris County's Primary Election Day Disaster

A long line stretched outside the polling center at Dezavala Park in East Houston during the primary election earlier this month.EXPAND
A long line stretched outside the polling center at Dezavala Park in East Houston during the primary election earlier this month.
Screenshot, KTRK

Two Texas congressmen have officially asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate Harris County's recent primary election, which was riddled with problems like excessively long lines at polling centers and confusing directions about where to vote, the Texas Tribune first reported yesterday. 

The letter, penned by U.S. Representatives Gene Green and Al Green, asked that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch look into "the distribution of voting machines and polling stations" for the Harris County primary. 

"On March 1, we witnessed long lines in predominately Hispanic and African-American precincts in Harris County due to the lack of voting machines and polling locations," the congressmen wrote in the letter. "The failure to distribute sufficient voting machines in predominately Hispanic and African-American precincts in Harris County, in comparison to the resources made available in more affluent, predominately Anglo precincts in the county, had a discriminatory impact on our constituents' ability to participate in the political process."

If the Attorney General agrees to investigate, it could eventually shed some light on what exactly went wrong. Meanwhile, Harris County's top election official, Stan Stanart, doesn't seem to think there was anything wrong at all. 

“It wasn’t unique to the Democratic Party and it wasn’t unique necessarily to one portion of town,” Stanart told the Tribune. “The voters decided to show up. It's an inexact science of predicting voter turnout.”

When we prodded Stanart about the issue earlier this month, he shrugged it off in similar fashion, seeming strangely proud that so many people came out to vote, rather than expressing concern that long lines and confusion may have turned more people away. He also told us he did everything he could to get more voting booths in more precincts, both during the early voting stage and on election day, as it became clear that voter participation numbers would far surpass officials' initial estimates.

While Stanart acknowledged that he and other election officials underestimated the voter turnout, he also placed much of the blame on the Harris County Democratic and Republican parties, who are each responsible for creating and outfitting their own polling centers by requesting resources from the county. 

But Stanart's contention to the Tribune that polling problems were evenly distributed does not appear to be true. Much of the social media complaints about primary day's problems came from minority-majority precincts. The Houston Chronicle documented widespread confusion over where to vote in Acres Homes, a predominantly African-American area. In one mostly minority neighborhood in East Houston, the late-night line at a polling center snaked outside the building and around the block. For whatever reason, there did not appear to be similar complaints or images coming from the whiter, more affluent precincts. 

The congressmen's letter, dated March 15, came after President Barack Obama's weekend SXSW critique of Texas's voter registration law for limiting public participation in politics. Earlier this week, as Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference to defend the law, the state was hit with yet another lawsuit claiming it was disenfranchising citizens. The Texas Civil Rights Project filed the federal lawsuit on Wednesday, alleging the Department of Public Safety failed to register nearly 2,000 voters online. 

Given the context, it's not so hard to understand why Texas still has the second-lowest voting-age participation rate in the nation, despite the fact that the state had its highest voter turnout ever earlier this month. 

You can read the entire letter to the DOJ here:


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