Lawmakers to hold hearing into excessive voting lines on Super Tuesday

Voting lines
Voters wait in line to cast their ballot in the Democratic primary at a polling station in Houston, March 3. – Photo by Callaghan O'Hare/The Texas Tribune

 

By ALEXA URA

The Texas Tribune

 

After excessive voting lines on Super Tuesday forced Texans to wait for up to six hours to vote, state lawmakers are directing their attention toward challenges voters faced in trying to cast a ballot for the presidential primary election.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus on Thursday announced it would hold a joint hearing this month with the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and the Texas Legislative Study Group, a nonpartisan caucus, to hear from election officials, experts and voters affected by long lines and other issues at the polls.

“Texas must quickly fix the problems encountered by voters during Primary Election Day so that we do not see a repeat of these failures during the November General Election,” state Rep. Rafael Anchía, the Dallas Democrat who chairs MALC, said in a statement. “We received reports of limited polling locations, workers and machines, ridiculously long lines, equipment malfunctions and elections website failures.”

Lawmakers are wading into the matter days after Texas voters ran into a series of issues, including voting sites that opened late, insufficient voting equipment or staff at polling places and, perhaps most notably, hours-long waits to cast their ballots. Voters at the Texas State University in San Marcos reported waiting in unusually long lines hours after polls closed. Voters who jumped into line just before the 7 p.m. cutoff were still waiting to vote several hours later.

Some of the worst issues were experienced in Harris County. Insufficient voting machines at sites serving mostly Black and Brown communities, in part, led to wait times that exceeded four hours after polls closed. Voters at Texas Southern University were still making their way to the front of line almost six hours after polls closed.

In other areas of the state, voters faced slowdowns attributed to faulty ballot-printers and in at least one case, a voting site was temporarily shut down over technical issues with voting equipment. The secretary of state’s portal, where voters can look up their registrations, also went down on the morning of Election Day over what an agency spokesman described as significantly heavy traffic.

Pointing to those issues, the Texas Civil Rights Project on Thursday also called on state and county officials to address a “crisis point” that disenfranchised voters across the state ahead of the November general election.

“The State of Texas must recognize Tuesday as the alarm that it was,” Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, wrote in a letter sent to the Texas secretary of state and election administrators in some of the state’s largest counties where some of those issues were documented on Tuesday.

By Friday, Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman took “full responsibility” for the long lines and wait times.

In a statement released Friday, Trautman, the Democrat who oversees elections in Harris County, apologized to voters affected by the excessively long lines experienced at voting sites serving mostly Black and Hispanic communities and said her office would reevaluate how to distribute voting machines across the county.

“It is clear that the history of marginalized communities being left behind in the voting process has led to polling deserts in areas of Harris County,” she wrote. “I believe that we have made some strides, but we still have work left to do.”

It was reported that county officials rushed to get additional voting equipment to those polling places, dipping into its backup fleet. But it wasn’t enough. The worst of it was felt at Texas Southern University, a Historically Black University and College in Houston’s Third Ward, where some voters waited in line for more than six hours.

Months before, the local Republican party had pushed back against holding a joint primary, which would have allowed voters to share machines preloaded with ballots for both parties. Without a joint primary, Trautman chose to allocate an equal number of machines for both primaries at each polling site.

But that left voting machines sitting unused on the Republican side of polling places where voting wrapped up once polls closed.

Trautman said her office had done “the best with what we had” but committed to rethinking voting machine allocations.

More than 4 million ballots were cast in the primary election, with more than 2 million coming in on Election Day alone. Turnout is expected to be much higher in November. In a previous interview with The Texas Tribune, Trautman indicated the county would likely try to purchase additional equipment for the November election.

 

 

This article was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/05/texas-lawmakers-excessive-voting-lines-primary and https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/05/texas-lawmakers-excessive-voting-lines-primary by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.

 

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