State propositions, school board races and propositions from other local municipalities were on the ballot, bringing out 9.4% of registered voters countywide. While this was a smaller election compared to larger races such as presidential elections, Longoria said 114,000 voters cast ballots on Election Day in addition to 63,000 in the two-week early voting period.
This was the first election using the county’s new secure paper-based voting machines, and Longoria said training about 700 election judges with the new process was another challenge due to COVID-19 restrictions. With five elections coming up in the next six months, she said there is room for improvement and additional training in the coming months.
“There’s a lot of learned lessons as well,” she said. “Primarily on election night, that power glitch that knocked out our uninterrupted power source—not good. It happened, thankfully, before our logic and accuracy testing started for the night, which means we were able to do a full safety reboot of those computers.”
Longoria explained this reboot process took two hours, but early voting results legally cannot be processed until the logic and accuracy test is completed. To better prepare for such power glitches in the future, she suggested purchasing commercial-grade uninterrupted power sources.
The elections administrator’s office posted an update on Facebook and Twitter at 6:31 p.m. announcing voting results would be delayed due to power issues.
— Harris County Elections (@HarrisVotes) November 2, 2021
“The biggest learned lesson from me ... is just being better about telling folks what’s going on in a timely manner: press conferences, press releases and making sure that our website has those banners with that information in a timely manner. Where I was trying to do things on the fly and use social media; not everyone uses social media,” Longoria said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said he has been in contact with several election judges who worked Election Day and detailed a list of concerns, including workers being unfamiliar with equipment, the time it took to run logic and accuracy testing, a lack of updates shared with the public, long lines for judges dropping off equipment, the difficulty some disabled individuals experienced using curbside voting and the fact that the power issues were not anticipated.
— Harris County Elections (@HarrisVotes) November 3, 2021
He called for an in-depth, independent audit to identify and address these issues. Commissioners ultimately did not take action on the request.
“These problems were significant,” Ramsey said. “We've got huge elections coming up. We’ve got to be sure we get it right. And so, I'm recommending that we do have an independent audit—not the EA audit herself.”
Longoria said she would welcome an audit but that several members of the Texas Secretary of State's Office were in attendance, and she believes they would not report any concerns. She has made herself available to speak with election judges and learn from their feedback, and Rice University is working with her office to distribute a survey to election judges.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia noted this was not the first time election results came in late, but there has never been an audit of those events. Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis accused Ramsey of suggesting the audit because the two Republicans on the court at the time opposed the creation of the elections administrator’s office.
The creation of this office was approved in fall 2020, and Longoria was sworn into the role that November. Her department is responsible for running elections and registering voters, as previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper. Previously, the county clerk and tax assessor-collector oversaw elections.
The former Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle opposed the idea of the new office saying elected officials should oversee elections rather than appointed officials.
Ramsey said his motivations in proposing an audit were not political but rather he was responding to concerns raised by election judges.
“I personally would not think that this rises to the level of independent review,” Ellis said. “If we get into the business of spending money every time somebody has a political difference and having an independent review ... we’d go broke.”
Hidalgo said she agreed the communication issues should be addressed but that Longoria did the right thing in rebooting the computers to ensure accurate results.
Longoria said her office will continue working with commissioners to ensure smooth elections and will later bring an item to Commissioners Court requesting a commercial-grade uninterrupted power source.