Harris County clerk to move ballot box collection center to centralized location in effort to expedite election result returns

Ahead of the Dec. 14 mayoral runoff election for the city of Houston, Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman announced plans Nov. 12 to move the county’s ballot box collection center to a more centralized location in hopes of expediting election result returns. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
Ahead of the Dec. 14 mayoral runoff election for the city of Houston, Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman announced plans Nov. 12 to move the county’s ballot box collection center to a more centralized location in hopes of expediting election result returns. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Ahead of the Dec. 14 mayoral runoff election for the city of Houston, Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman announced plans Nov. 12 to move the county’s ballot box collection center to a more centralized location in hopes of expediting election result returns. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Ahead of the Dec. 14 mayoral runoff election for the city of Houston, Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman announced plans Nov. 12 to move the county’s ballot box collection center to a more centralized location in hopes of expediting election result returns.

The announcement was made during the Nov. 12 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, when Trautman was recapping the Nov. 5 election for the court. While Harris County’s new countywide polling place program was first implemented for the May 4 joint election, Nov. 5 was the first time the county had used the program since it had received a “successful” status from the Texas secretary of state’s office Aug. 5.

However, there were several issues that occurred during the Nov. 5 election, including an advisory from Secretary of State Ruth R. Hughes that came Oct. 23 and changed the way voting results could be delivered, as previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper.

While the county had planned to transmit voting results to a downtown collection center electronically over a secure “intranet” connection, the advisory required Harris County election officials to have constables escort physical ballot boxes to the downtown collection center from 10 drop-off points in the county.

Trautman said the change was one of the main contributing factors for the delay in election result returns, as the last vote count from Harris County was reported at 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 6. However, Tratuman said Harris County was not the only Texas county that faced delays with reporting results this election.


“Harris County had almost five times as many locations as Travis [County] and almost twice the locations that Dallas [County] had and with 20-year-old technology, we still managed to get our results out just a couple of hours later than them,” Trautman said during the meeting.

In addition to the change in the reporting process, Trautman said approximately 200 voting locations had voters in line at 7 p.m. and were still processing voters past 8 p.m., which contributed to the delay.

In hopes of more quickly reporting election results in the future, Trautman said Harris County would move forward with a new reporting process.

“We’re focused on addressing this issue and working with our vendor Hart Intercivic to replace the original reporting process we had with a new one,” Trautman said. “We are currently reviewing processes and have a plan moving forward to address getting expedited returns for the upcoming Dec. 14 runoff election and comply also with the secretary of state advisory. This plan will include moving the central county station to a centralized location, where drop-offs can occur and media can see the process of exactly what takes place on election night. We believe this will be more efficient and transparent.”

In addition in delays from the reporting process, Trautman said during the Nov. 5 election 10 voting sites had to be combined with others on Nov. 5 due to last-minute lack of staffing by judges who did not pick up their Election Day equipment and were unable to be reached. Additionally, Trautman said there were a handful of judges and clerks who issued the wrong ballot style to voters.

Both issues were ones Trautman said had happened in the past and were not limited to just Harris County.

“We have identified the judges and clerks that issued the wrong ballot and are planning to correct this issue with more training and better training,” she said.

Trautman also encouraged voters to fill out a sample ballot and bring it with them to the polls to not only expedite the voting process, but also to ensure they are looking at the right ballot onscreen.

“Be sure and check your summary page of your voting screen before you press ‘cast ballot,’” Trautman said. “That way there’s no dispute. [If you have the sample ballot with you], you can show the election worker ‘Look, this isn’t my ballot.’”

In spite of some of the challenges of the Nov. 5 election, Trautman said she believed the positives outweighed the negatives.

“We received very positive feedback from voters who were able to cast a ballot wherever they were on Election Day,” she said. “We had higher turnout on Election Day than during early voting. We received positive feedback from organizations that host Election Day phone banks because it’s now easier to navigate voters to polling locations ... and not one provisional ballot was cast on Election Day because a voter showed up at the wrong location.”

Additionally, Trautman said the county was able to address concerns from the May 4 election ahead of Nov. 5 and implement new features and strategies to improve the voting experience.

“We’ve addressed concerns from earlier in the year, including fixing connectivity issues, adding curbside buzzers and keeping more than 700 locations open on Election Day,” she said. “Over 700 high school students were trained as electronic support specialists to assist judges with equipment on Election Day. We introduced new technology features that helped voters find polling locations including our wait time feature and our poll finder text box.”
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