Election Day Starts With Slight Delays, But Overall Operations Appear To Be Running Smoothly

Houston Mayoral candidate Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was among the candidates who headed to several of Harris County's vote centers to greet those casting their ballots.
Houston Mayoral candidate Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was among the candidates who headed to several of Harris County's vote centers to greet those casting their ballots. Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
Election Day kicked off – for some later than others – amid several issues reported Tuesday morning that left a handful of the county’s 701 vote centers having to open later than planned.

St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, River Oaks Park, River Oaks and Frostwood elementary schools were among the polling locations where election workers were experiencing problems with operations.

This included two broken voting machines at the church, scanners not properly scanning accepted ballots at River Oaks Elementary and two paper jams at River Oaks Park and Community Center.

One of the paper jams occurred earlier in the day, when there was a larger line, and resulted in about 20 people being turned away because of the issue, according to reports. The jams were fixed with assistance from the county's election electronic support team.

Voters at the church could cast their ballots, as the other 10 voting machines were operating properly. Election workers told voters who were in line at River Oaks Elementary to either wait at the vote center or referred these residents to other nearby polling locations.

Election workers fixed the issues with scanner processing at the vote center before county election personnel sent out a new scanner and election tech to assist in managing the problem.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth said any issues or questions could be reported to call center workers operating the county’s call system – which, as of Tuesday morning, had received 1,293 tickets.

Hudspeth said 84 percent of these calls were from presiding judges or other election workers assisting at the individual polling locations, and 16 percent were from voters who had questions concerning the voting process or other election-related inquiries.
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Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudpseth said roughly 125 call center workers had been stationed to answer calls starting at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
She confirmed the issues previously reported at the River Oaks polling locations and Frostwood Elementary had been fixed.

Hudspeth added that the major challenge of Tuesday, as in other elections, was ensuring that these vote centers among the other Election Day polling locations opened up on time.

According to Hudspeth, of the 701 vote centers, 93 percent, or roughly 652 vote centers, opened on time at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, with the remaining locations delayed in opening due to technical issues and other related issues.

Hudspeth said this included election judges not showing up on time, canceling at the last minute, election workers not setting up before Election Day as they were instructed to do, new election judges challenged with setting up equipment or facility managers not opening up the vote center on time.

Despite these delays, Hudspeth said the county had achieved a “major accomplishment,” with over 40,000 voters casting their ballots as of Tuesday morning. This number climbed to more than 87,000 voters by the afternoon.

“Voters should not be concerned. We will make sure that every single voter that comes to the poll has the opportunity to exercise their most sacred right to vote,” she said. “This is not something new. Every election, we have to work through those kinks, and we do one step at a time and make sure voters are able to vote.”
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Voters flocking to the West Gray Multiservice Center for one final chance to cast their ballots fought through crowds of campaigners.
Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
As residents arrived at the polls to cast their votes, several politicians featured on the ballot were outside to greet those heading into the voter centers.

At West Gray MultiService Center, one of the county’s more popular polling locations, Houston mayoral candidates Attorney Lee Kaplan and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee made a last-ditch effort to collect voters’ support.

When asked, Jackson Lee said she had voted on the first day of early voting but said it is important for voters to arrive whether it’s the first or last opportunity to cast their ballots.

“The vibe is wonderful. I’ve been to West Gray for some reason. This is the meet-up place – for young people, this place pops,” Jackson Lee said. “I’m a peoples' candidate; I want to make sure the people see me and I see them.

Update: 3:20 p.m.

At 2 p.m., reports indicated that six of the voting machines at Tanglewood Middle School were still down after crashing mid-morning. The presiding judge at the vote center said these issues were reported to election officials, who said they could fix these machines remotely.

These election officials then said they would send out an election technician – but did not indicate when poll workers should expect personnel to arrive.

Other voting machines are operating, which has kept the voters showing up to this polling location able to cast their ballots. However, the unusable machines have caused longer lines at the vote center.

Harris County election officials did confirm these reported issues and said that some of the issues were resolved by assistance from the call center while problems with the machines were directly fixed by a county election technician.

Update: 4:36 p.m.

Alongside Houston mayoral candidates Attorney Lee Kaplan and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, several other candidates took to the polls to shake voters’ hands and share quick chats with those casting their ballots.
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State Senator John Whitmire made the rounds to several of Harris County's polling locations, saying hello along the way to those voting for him.
Photo by Ahmed Sharma
Fellow Houston mayoral candidate State Senator John Whitmire was among the group that appeared at some of the county’s Election Day vote centers. Whitmire will be surrounded by his supporters later Tuesday night for a watch party set to start at 7 p.m.

Two candidates vying for City Council District G’s seat, incumbent Mary Nan Huffman and Attorney Tony Buzbee, were stationed outside Nottingham Elementary School and Nottingham Park. Both candidates took pictures with and talked to their supporters.
Update: 5:55 p.m.

With about an hour left until polls close, the Harris County Clerk’s Office has confirmed that over 172,000 voters have cast their ballots on Tuesday.

The current number of Election Day voters, with the total number of those who opted to cast their ballots either during the early voting period in person or online, amasses to more than 400,000 Harris County voters.

We'll be updating this story throughout the day with the latest events.
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.