Following several issues in the March 1 primary elections, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria announced her resignation, effective July 1, at the March 8 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting. She said this date will allow the Harris County Elections Commission sufficient time to appoint a replacement.
“Ultimately, the buck stops with me to address these issues and conduct elections on behalf of the voters. I didn't meet my own standard, nor the standard set by Commissioners Court in doing so,” she said. “But through this transition, we now have a real opportunity to have the hard but necessary conversations in order to solve the problems for the future elections and further bolster the elections administration.”
Just after the polls closed at 7 p.m. on March 1, the Texas secretary of state’s office said in a news release Harris County would not be able to count and report votes by the statutory deadline of 7 p.m. on March 2. Longoria said she believed this state law was arbitrary, outdated and did not reflect the increased number of votes or the technological and accountability standards currently in place.
Several election clerks testified March 8 about repeated issues in this election and in previous ones under Longoria’s leadership. In addition to the delayed results, local residents and officials mentioned voting machine failures with long wait times for assistance; voters being turned away due to a lack of poll workers and working machines; inadequate allocation of equipment; a shortage of election judges; a long ballot that required multiple sheets of paper and a lack of training or feeling of unpreparedness among election judges.
Additionally, about 10,000 ballots were discovered after the final count. The votes were scanned into the elections computer but were not transferred and counted. Longoria attributed the mistake to the exhaustion of her staff members, who had worked throughout the night.
Last November, a power glitch caused significant delays in election results for state propositions, school board races and local municipality propositions. Longoria said her office implemented all commissioner requests between the November and March elections, including additional training for election judges and adding multiple supply drop-off locations.
Primary election issues drew questions and criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. The Harris County GOP filed a lawsuit against Longoria on March 7, calling for her resignation or termination.
"Harris County is the third largest county in the country with the longest ballot nationwide—it's critical that we get our elections right. The widespread problems in the primary election are inexcusable and due to the incompetence of Democrat leader Lina Hidalgo and her unelected, unqualified Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria. ... Longoria cannot remain in place for the May 7 local elections or the May 24 primary runoff without independent oversight from either the court or the secretary of state,” Harris County GOP Chair Cindy Siegel said in a March 8 statement.
Longoria was sworn into her position in mid-November 2020 after serving as a special adviser on voting rights to former County Clerk Chris Hollins. The office’s responsibilities include setting polling locations, counting ballots and registering voters—duties previously split between the county clerk and tax-assessor collector. Longoria’s starting salary in the role was set at $190,000 by the Harris County Elections Commission, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
Republicans Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle suggested transitioning election responsibilities back to the county clerk and tax-assessor collector, a request which was not supported by the three Democrats on the court March 8.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s motion to have the county administrator and county attorney’s offices engage a third-party consultant to review elections operations and recommend efficiencies for the remaining elections this year passed with the same 3-2 split vote.
Before she announced her resignation, Ramsey also requested Longoria be terminated “based on performance,” noting votes were counted in about six hours in previous elections. In response, Longoria said the county has been working under different circumstances with new voting machines rolled out in November and Senate Bill 1 passed last year—a law she said came with a lack of guidance from the state on how it would affect elections.
Longoria noted that during her tenure, voter turnout and registration increased, and her office implemented innovative approaches to increase access to the polls, including drive-thru voting and expanded hours.
Hidalgo, who also serves on the county’s elections commission, said her priorities moving forward are to protect the integrity of upcoming elections, find new leadership after a thorough search and address the issues identified.
“It is vital—particularly given the pandering that has taken hold over the past few years around our nation—that voters understand that while several aspects of this election from so many rejected mail ballots to part of the website being down for some time to slow vote count were problematic,” Hidalgo said. “We have no evidence to suggest that the full count, once certified, and that will happen later this week, is not accurate.”