Days away from the end of early voting, Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth said that operations are running relatively smoothly – with over 123,000 in-person early voters having cast their ballots as of Wednesday morning.
Hudspeth added that Harris County election officials sent out 20,000 mail-in ballots to voters who are older than 65, have a disability or met other eligibility requirements as an alternative to opt out of visiting one of the 68 early in-person polling locations across the county.
According to Hudspeth, county election officials are expecting to receive more mail-in ballots between now and Election Day, November 7, as 85 percent of total ballots sent out are typically returned.
This will be the first election since Hudspeth took over in September after the state passed Senate Bill 1750, which targeted Harris County by preventing it from having the ability to have an elections administrator and led to the removal from office of former Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum.
Hudspeth acknowledged this during a Wednesday press conference and said despite handling the high early voter turnout, the true test for her and other county election officials will be on Election Day.
“It’s a very big operation, 701 locations. We are in real-time addressing concerns as they come along,” she said. “But there’s no way we can know ahead of time before we get into the big show.”
Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth said she is confident with the measures put in place Election Day operations should run smoothly, but noted that flawless elections do not exist.
Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
Hudspeth said one of the biggest concerns on election days is having the designated staff, such as presiding judges, alternate judges, and election clerks, available and at the polls where needed.
She added that currently, election operations are about 99.8 percent staffed, with presiding and alternate judges the ones calling in to report issues with their availability. To fill these vacancies, Hudspeth said election officials have an emergency management system in place for staff who may need someone to fill in if they are sick or, for whatever reason, can’t show up at their polls.
“It’s a revolving door, right? Today, we can be fully staffed,” she said. “By Saturday, we can have about 10 folks call us and say they can no longer serve.”
Election judges and alternative judges will come to the NRG Election Command Center by the end of early voting to pick up equipment for Election Day – at that time, Hudspeth said election officials will be able to see if they have 100 percent of staff for those rolls.
Hudspeth said several measures are in place to mitigate other potential issues, as seen in past elections. This includes the November 2022 election, when roughly 20 polling locations ran out of ballot paper and several others failed to open on time due to reported technological issues.
Election officials have increased the amount of ballot paper, upped the number of election worker training sessions, implemented the ServiceNow System to communicate in real-time with election workers and hired election technicians to assist with any problems in early voting or at Election Day sites.
Hudspeth added that the county clerk’s office is also revisiting “rally sites,” six locations across the county where election judges will drop off their ballot boxes and related materials, for a more efficient method of processing the votes.
Election officials expect between 80 to 100 judges to drop off at sites, with the highest number of judges reporting straight to the NRG Election Command Center – one of the six rally locations.
“We have a drive-up, drive-thru style,” Lauren Balthazar, an election worker, said. “A judge will pull up to one of our six sites, and then they will stay in their cart comfortably while we will unload all of the nine pieces of required equipment that come back from our poll cents and walk it into one of our rally sites for processing.”
The potential issue in this process is the transportation from the judges’ polling location sites to their designated rally sites. Hudspeth said drop-off times can vary for several reasons, including the number of voters still in line at the polls or judges deciding not to drive directly to their assigned rally site.
Despite the possibility of delays, Hudspeth said all the ballots will eventually end up at the central count center at NRG on election night.
County officials did not use rally sites in the most recent elections; however, they were used in past elections, including in November 2018.
To ensure the security of the materials the election judges will be dropping off at rally sites, both law and legal enforcement will be stationed at each of the six locations.
Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
As for transparency, Hudspeth said voters could log onto the Harris County Clerk’s Office Elections Department website to see a live stream from the cameras at NRG on Election night.
These cameras went up under the new Texas Election law that went into effect in 2021, which requires 24-hour surveillance cameras whenever paper ballots are being tallied in counties with populations of over 100,000 residents.
Voters have two days left to cast their ballots during early voting ahead of Election Day, Tuesday, November 7. Those who opt to vote next Tuesday can do so at any of the county's 701 Election Day polling locations.