Voters in the state’s most populous county are again wondering about the competence of their top election official, after Republicans monitoring their party’s March 3 primary have uncovered mistake after mistake by the Democrat and her team.
Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, who is in charge of conducting elections for over 2.2 million registered voters, has been under fire since the start of early voting, when voters and poll workers discovered her office had loaded the wrong voter data into the county’s electronic poll books.
The mistake, which Trautman’s office called a “sync issue,” resulted in registered voters not showing up in the poll books, voters listed at the wrong addresses, and mail-ballot voters not flagged in the voter database.
Harris County Republican Party officials reported the errors to the elections office and warned missing mail-ballot data opened the door to voters casting two ballots.
“The same problem was noted for the first two and half days of early voting for the November 5 elections,” said Alan Vera, head of HCRP’s committee that monitors local election activities, in a report by The Texan.
Republicans disagreed. The party is contracting with the county to conduct its primary election, which affords them some leverage, but HCRP officials say they are concerned about holding Trautman’s office accountable for similar mistakes in the November general election.
“Until voters pointed out these problems, we were running our elections with the wrong database,” Vera said at Harris County Commissioners Court last Tuesday. “How are the citizens of Harris County supposed to have confidence in the election with this kind of data?”
Vera told commissioners he found data on the county clerk’s own website showing dozens of primary voters had cast two separate ballots, either once in person and once by mail or by submitting two mail ballots. The county is required by a new transparency law passed last year to post detailed voter data on its website after each day of early voting.
Since then, HCRP discovered another mistake by Trautman’s office caused some of the duplicate voter records. Elections staff incorrectly added 30 GOP mail-ballot voters to the list of early voters twice—once when the ballots were received by the clerk, and again after Republican ballot board members had reviewed the ballots for correct address information.
Other duplicate voting records are still unexplained.
Vera’s team is also working to get answers from the clerk’s office about a discrepancy in the in-person early voting data.
The county’s final daily record of early voting by location shows a total of 198,856 primary ballots cast at the polls, but the early voting roster shows 198,430 voters checked in at the polls—426 fewer than the number of ballots on the summary report (285 Democrat and 141 Republican).
Finally, authorities are now investigating how a Democrat primary ballot was cast after voting hours at an early voting polling place run by a Democrat election judge—then apparently added to the vote totals by Trautman’s office.
The ballot was cast on February 22 at 9:10 p.m.—over two hours after the 7:00 p.m. closing time. According to an incident report filed with the county by HCRP, the presiding judge had dismissed all Republican poll workers at 6:00 p.m.
The following day, a poll worker arrived to find election equipment unsecured and reported the infraction to HCRP’s election coordinator. Staff from Trautman’s office arrived, interviewed poll workers, and ultimately replaced the presiding judge.
Yet the illegally cast ballot was apparently still counted. HCRP noted Trautman’s office first reported 62 Democrats voting at the site on the 22nd, then changed the report to show 63 Democrats voting that day.
“We know that the Democrat presiding judge did illegal things to enable this vote,” said Vera. “We know that the county clerk altered the vote count from that location the night of and in subsequent reports.”
Doug Ray, with the county attorney’s office, told Vera on Monday he is following up on the incident and said Trautman’s office would secure the election equipment and data involved as requested by HCRP.
Since taking office in 2019, Trautman has implemented a number of controversial changes to county elections, including a move to countywide vote centers that Republicans warned the county wasn’t ready to roll out securely. She drew criticism last November when her election night vote-counting plan had to be changed at the last minute because it did not meet state security standards.
Trautman isn’t the only local Democrat election official under fire. Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Bennett, who serves as the county’s voter registrar, is embroiled in a two-year-old federal lawsuit for hiding public records of noncitizens found on the county’s voter rolls. Bennett is facing two challengers in today’s primary.
Overall, the county clerk’s website reported a total of 244,442 Harris County residents voted early as of February 28—198,856 in person and 45,586 by mail ballot. Another 24,000 outstanding mail ballots could still be returned and counted.
Local voters with questions about the status of their mail ballot can contact the Harris County Clerk’s Elections Department.