Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum addressed the Harris County Commissioners Court during the Nov. 15 meeting to discuss Election Day issues, calling for a “revamped” communications system and additional resources. The Nov. 8 election was Tatum's first in this role.

Entering the courtroom after an intense public comment session, which included some speakers from a protest outside the county building and rousing applause following numerous speakers, Tatum was able to speak without interruption during his time at the podium.

In his election recap to the court, he acknowledged that at least one voting center—confirmed as BakerRipley in East End by his office to Community Impact—opened significantly late.

“I went to the location that had the critically late start, and I met a voter who was standing in line at 6:45 [a.m.],” Tatum said. “He shared with me his experience, and he showed me pictures. He came back at 11:15 [a.m.] to cast a ballot. ... He agreed to share more information with us so that we can follow up with what happened at that polling location.”

Late starts at several locations prompted a lawsuit and subsequent court order on the evening of Election Day that kept polls open an extra hour until 8 p.m.; the Texas Supreme Court later issued a stay on that order, requiring that ballots cast between 7-8 p.m. be segregated and not tabulated in the final count.

During the meeting, Tatum said over 2,100 provisional ballots had been cast in that time period. He added his office is in the process of counting those ballots and will complete a full assessment of the elections once the tabulation process is complete.

Tatum asked the court to canvass the election results Nov. 22. At least one race will go to a runoff Dec. 13, according to Tatum.

Need for resources

Tatum cited a breakdown in the communications system between the election judges, his office’s call center and the technicians dispatched to perform maintenance on voting machines, noting one instance in which an election judge informed him that they had attempted to reach out to a technician to no avail, while the call center had indicated it had indeed dispatched one.

“Early assessment suggests to me that system replacements are in dire need,” Tatum said. “We must take a deep dive into the voting system operations. ... There is no real visibility within a call from the judge to a response from a technician to a completion of whatever the issue was that occurred.”

His 20-minute testimony also included a plea to provide his office with more resources beyond one-time funding to run elections in the nation’s third-largest county.

“I’m not making excuses for our staff—that is the job that we signed up [for]. And we will do the job that we signed up for, but our resources must be there to support us—resources to adequately cover 782 locations throughout a 1,700-square-mile county with temporary technical support ... to properly manage those individuals.”

And in a statement of support, Tatum thanked election judges, who he said work as volunteers for 16-18 hours on Election Day, and that without them, “democracy would not prevail.”

“Election judges are our friends and neighbors. ... They have always been our friends and neighbors, and no one of them is trying to cheat anyone else out of the elections process,” Tatum said.