Felicia Cravens is a frontline election worker with more than 20 years of experience serving voters at the polls in Harris County.
So, how about that Harris County Election Administration meltdown, eh?
You should know how I spent Election Day.
I worked on the Rapid Response Team that the Harris County Republican Party set up to support election judges and respond to election issues of all types. My role was to man the phones for tech help and dispatch team members to polls where needed.
The party had dozens of people on hand to record problems as they were reported in, but also to respond to them as we were able.
Judge didn’t show? We dispatched one. Clerks AWOL? We sent one over. Had trouble with a machine? We talked judges through issues and solved them.
My team members fielded calls and texts from polling locations all day, while trying to get as much data as we could and documenting as many problems as we could. If it went sideways somewhere, we heard about it.
Early in the day, the calls were about locations that couldn’t open on time. Codes to open the polls wouldn’t work, or the keys weren’t in the supplies to set up the voting machines, or the poll was understaffed or unstaffed altogether.
Some locations could not get their machines properly hooked up and running. One of the busiest had only 10 of 50 voting machines working. Another had no functioning ballot box/scanner, so voters had nowhere to deposit their ballots except an emergency slot.
We learned that at one location—an elementary school in Baytown—the principal didn’t open the gate so voters could enter. At another location, only four of 30 machines worked.
Call after call, report after report, we tried to figure out ways to help. Meanwhile, our judges kept telling us nobody was picking up the county phones. Wait times were reported to be as long as 45 minutes to 15 hours until a human responded.
In many cases, our hands were tied. Back in the primary we could pick up supplies, deliver ballot paper, offer tech support, help troubleshoot problematic machines. The party had the election authority over the primary and could dispatch help easily.
But in the general election, all of the authority to handle these things was in the hands of the elections administrator. To scores of judges, the only way we could help them was to try to email and call the EA office from the party headquarters and hope to get to someone on those channels.
Based on the experiences our judges were reporting, using those channels didn’t help solve those problems. Here’s just a sample of the reports that came across from my emails, texts, and calls:
- iPads for checking in voters weren’t holding a charge.
- Voting machines were set up before a judge arrived to set them up.
- Machines were still set with “Early Voting” settings.
- Voting booths were not synching with controller machines.
These problems weren’t occurring in one or two locations; they were happening ALL OVER THE COUNTY. ALL DAY.
And then the ballot paper problem began.
I think the first I became aware of it was around 1 p.m. when a few judge friends called me to tell me they believed they would run out of ballot paper. It killed me to tell them that we didn’t have the ability to get paper to them and that they had to keep calling the EA.
We kept hearing this and heard that the EA was telling judges there was no way they were running out of ballot paper, because they knew how many people were voting. Who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes?
But it seems the EA failed to calculate just how many voters would be using these machines for the first time—and just how many ballots would need to be spoiled due to paper jams in the voting machines.
Some judges called over and over, beginning at 9 a.m., to try to make sure they had sufficient ballot paper to finish the day. Some of them reported the dwindling number of pages they had left each time they called.
And then one location ran out of ballot paper completely in the early afternoon. And then another. Eventually, the party had to put this out:
We recommend you avoid the following polling locations because the Harris County Elections Administrator did not provide an adequate amount of ballot paper. Find an alternative polling location at harrisvotes.com and GET OUT AND VOTE! Polls close in less than two hours.
We recommend you avoid the following polling locations because the Harris County Elections Administrator did not provide an adequate amount of ballot paper.
— Harris County GOP (@HarrisCountyRP) November 8, 2022
During all this, the EA must have been planning to try to keep the polls open later, because all of a sudden, we heard there was an order in place to extend voting until 8 p.m.
When voting hours are extended by a judge here, the votes for that extended time period are supposed to be cast provisionally. But of course, we started hearing from our judges that there was a shortage of provisional forms at many locations.
The only thing a judge could do if they ran out of provisional ballots was to ask voters to wait until they were resupplied by the EA if they wanted to vote. And if people were in line by 8 p.m. under that order, that location had to stay open until each voter in line voted.
So, during the extended hours, guess what happened! Paper ballot deliveries started being reported: 3,000 at one location, 4,000 at another location, and 2,000 at a third.
Judges would say, “I don’t need all this, but four other locations nearby do. Are you going there too?”
One driver said, “I only have four stops on my list. My next stop is 20 miles away.” This was happening after 7 p.m. One location reported his long-awaited ballot paper request, one he had begun calling about at lunchtime, was fulfilled at 7:45.
Another judge received his ballot paper at 9:05. Only four voters were in line at that point. By that time, the EA knew that the order to keep the polls open had been stayed by the Texas Supreme Court.
There are so many more incidents highlighting the countless failures of the EA’s office. I went back and looked at some of my tweets in the spring about Isabel Longoria and how bad she was at this job.
I had no concept of just how much worse it could get.
This was the first large federal election using the new voting machines. The EA’s office has been working with these machines since May of 2021. All of the problems with the system that they have known about since then should have been solved long ago.
The technical issues with the machines themselves could be due to a lack of maintenance or improper care and calibration. Some reporter should start trying to find out how these machines are maintained and tested.
They knew the machines were jamming easily. Did they see if other counties around the country that use them have the same problems? It’s hard to believe it’s the technology at fault if the same machines work better in other locations. Have we checked that?
We should demand to know if these machines are being maintained properly. We should know why they continue to have problem after problem in every election.
This is one of the largest counties in the country, hosting some of the most expensive elections.
It isn’t just the tech that is costing massive amounts of money, though. The EA’s office is a massive jobs program. I’d love to see what non-judge/clerk payroll looks like. So much money is spent on people who don’t work the polls, but they run out of change of address forms?
They have a budget for students to run around NRG and toss ballot bags into piles without checking for seals, but not enough money to provide adequate ballot paper to nearly 800 polling locations in a federal election.
I’m disgusted at the politics behind all this.
We’re stuck with another unelected elections administrator who continues what the first one started: undermining the confidence of voters in this county in their elections.
Maybe it IS time for the Legislature to get involved. The Harris County Elections Administration has proven that it cannot be trusted to manage our elections.
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