Texas county's 2022 primary election audit shows GOP, Dem poll workers given disparate help

Harris County also experienced election issues in 2020. This report was completed in 2022, but only released this week, and showed that GOP poll workers were given less support than their Democratic counterparts.

Published: August 13, 2023 11:26pm

Updated: October 22, 2023 3:17am

An audit of the 2022 primary election in Harris County, Texas, shows that the county has continued to have election difficulties, with Republicans reporting more problems than Democrats.

Although the report, commissioned by Harris County to Fors Marsh Group (FMG) was submitted to the county in 2022, it was only just released to the public.

Last month, County Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) queried the missing report that was promised in January. “Every voter in Harris County knows that we are having problems with our elections, so it’s about time we figured this out, so we don’t have problems with our elections," he said.

Predominantly Democratic-leaning Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, experienced significant election issues in both the 2020 and 2022 elections.

In 2020, statewide election issues forced the Secretary of State to conduct an audit that found Harris County had "very serious issues in the handling of electronic media." One of the issues was that at least 14 mobile ballot boxes did not have proper chain of custody records for 184,999 ballots.

The county created the elections administrator office in 2020, which began operations shortly after the November presidential election. Despite spending tens of millions of dollars to overhaul the county’s election system, at least 10,000 ballots weren’t counted in the March 2022 primary election, causing the first administrator to resign.

Under the new administrator, reported irregularities also occurred during the November 2022 general election, such as electronic machines jamming and paper ballots not being delivered to mostly Republican precincts.

Harris County requested an evaluation of the administration of the March 2022 primary election. The evaluation aimed 1) to document issues encountered during the primary election, and 2) to identify underlying factors that contributed to those issues and make recommendations for improving the county’s election administration moving forward. Reported irregularities also occurred during the November 2022 general election, such as electronic machines jamming and paper ballots not being delivered to mostly Republican precincts.

In May, the Texas state legislature passed Senate Bill 1750, which eliminates the Harris County elections administrator position and returns the management of elections to an elected county clerk and tax assessor-collector.  The law is set to go into effect on Sept. 1, but the county is suing to temporarily block it, claiming that it would disrupt elections and undermine local officials.

There were numerous issues in the March 2022 primary election, according to the audit report, which was completed on Aug. 31, 2022, but only sent to the county Commissioners Court on Tuesday from the Office of County Administration.

The FMG report explained that because “of poor communication between the [elections administrator office] and the political parties, there were polling places with no judges or clerks on Election Day.

“Poll workers reported receiving inadequate training and felt that they lacked enough hands-on training with the new voting equipment, limiting their ability (and confidence) to address certain issues when a malfunction occurred at the polls,” the report added.

The report also said that voting supplies were not prepared ahead of time, which resulted in equipment not being properly calibrated and subsequent malfunctions, leading to delays at polling locations.

According to the report’s survey analysis of 470 poll judges and 626 poll workers who worked in the primary election, Republicans had to wait longer in line to receive their supply handouts than Democrats. A total of 22.7% of Republican election workers had to wait over an hour, compared to just 13.7% of Democrats. Republicans also had to wait longer in line to return their supplies, with 51% waiting over an hour, compared to 37.1% of Democrats having to wait the same amount.

A total of 18.2% of Republicans had to wait 15-30 minutes to receive assistance on the phone helpline, compared to 9.2% of Democrats. Also, 21.4% of Republicans had to wait more than 30 minutes for assistance, compared to 11% of Democrats.

According to the survey results, 45.8% of Republicans had difficulties setting up and operating voting equipment, compared to 29% of Democrats.

Of the total number of election workers, 39.4% were Republican, 51.5% were Democrat, and 9% were Independent.

The report noted that according to an interview Harris County GOP Chairwoman Cindy Siegel gave for the audit, “election workers for the Republican primary were changed from their assigned polling location without her knowledge.”

Also, GOP election judges told Siegel “that supplies were not available on time for pick-up, and in some cases that voting machines had not been delivered to polling locations by Monday evening,” according to the report.

She also was told by election workers “that supplies, such as cables, were missing from the equipment delivered, and in some cases, short paper, rather than the appropriate legal-sized ballot paper, was delivered to voting locations, causing problems with accounting for all the races in the ballot,” the report added.

While the report noted that Siegel and Harris County Democratic Party Chairman, Odus Evbagharu, mentioned similar issues regarding a lack of communication between the elections administrator office and political parties, the report makes no mention of Evbagharu reporting the same equipment issues as Siegel.

The Harris County Democratic Party didn’t respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Siegel, who sits on the five-member county elections commission with Evbagharu, told Just the News on Thursday that the commission received the audit report last October and that she was unaware until recently that the Commissioners Court hadn’t also been given the report.

The elections commission has hiring and firing authority over the elections administrator office, while the Commissioners Court provides funding for the office, Siegel explained.

Siegel said she thinks the delay in the Commissioners Court receiving the report is a “continuation of a lack of transparency, throwing up roadblocks” for “honest public dialogue” on the 2020 election and “how poorly the primary and general elections” were run last year.

The Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office told Just the News on Friday, "The Office of County Administration was the agency who ordered the report, which is why they were the ones to present it. The Election Commission, which includes the heads of both political parties, County Clerk’s Office, Tax Assessor’s Office, and the County Judge’s Office, received the full report directly from our office last year, as well as information on how the Election Administrator’s Office planned to incorporate the report’s recommendations in future elections. The Election Commission meeting where this was discussed was an open meeting and livestreamed for the public."

The Office of County Administration told Just the News on Friday, "At the July 18th Commisioners Court meeting, the Interim County Administrator was asked to put the report on an upcoming agenda, and the Office of County Administration did so."

The Harris County Commissioners Court didn’t respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Siegel said that Harris County has “the longest ballot in the country” and that there were “problems with machines not working, not set up, and missing equipment.”

She added that there are “other counties in Texas” that have the same voting machines as Harris County “and they don't have the problems with these same machines we do,” despite having a two-page ballot like Harris does.

Siegel also explained that both political parties didn't have enough election workers in various polling locations so she and Evbagharu agreed to let Democrats run Republican polls and vice versa. The issue was partly due to workers being switched around to different polling places without the county telling the parties, and partly because election workers weren't confident enough in the training they received to operate the polling locations.

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