Harris County clerk blames GOP for refusing to allow joint primary, causing long wait times for voters on Super Tuesday

HOUSTON – After Harris County voters faced long wait times on Tuesday, in some cases several hours, Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman placed the blame on the Harris County Republican Party.

In a tweet, Trautman wrote that her office proposed “a joint primary election, which would have allowed voters to vote on any available machines. This was rejected by the parties, which means both parties have an equal allocation of machines for each polling location."

In a follow-up tweet, Trauman linked to a press release from the Harris County Republican Party and wrote, “Correction - there wasn’t an agreement between parties. One party agreed while the other did not.”

The press release from the GOP website, dated August 9, 2019, linked to a letter from the Harris County Republican Chair, Paul Simpson to Trautman’s office.

The letter read in part:

“A joint primary would require: voters designating a party when signing in; staffing polls with either or (if available) both Republican and Democrat election judges and workers; and Republican and Democrat election workers checking in voters and managing election equipment for both primaries.”

Simpson declined the offer for a joint primary citing four reasons: delay, confusion, conflict and cost. You can read the full letter here.

Voters across Harris County reported long wait times Tuesday. Harris County Elections Supervisor Michael Winn also blamed the Republicans’ refusal to allow the sharing of voting machines for the wait times. KPRC 2 reached out to the Harris County GOP for comment just after 10:30 p.m. but has not heard back as of 11:25 p.m.

Mary Moreno, a spokeswoman for the Texas Organizing Project, said the county and the state needed to better prepare.

“TOP has been working for years to grow the Black and Latino vote in Harris County, so we’re thrilled to see this historic turnout, but it’s equally infuriating that our communities’ vote is being thwarted by long lines and malfunctioning machines,” Texas Organizing Project wrote in a statement.

The video above shows a long line of voters lined up outside the Texas Southern University’s polling location after polls closed at 7 p.m. Trautman’s office told KPRC 2 it deployed 14 extra voting machines to help cope with the line at that polling location.

Officials allowed all voters who were in line before 7 p.m. to cast their vote.

As of about 10:40 p.m., Trautman told KPRC 2 that about a third of the Harris County polling locations were “not closed,” but that didn’t necessarily mean they were still processing voters.

This is the second time Harris County has seen issues during a major election. In November 2019, results were released a day after the election after the Harris County Clerk’s Office had issues with counting the ballots.

On Wednesday morning before a city council meeting, Mayor Turner addressed the situation:

“I want to thank the voters who endured the long lines, and they were long lines, and waited hours to vote. I think at Texas Southern, they were waiting until 1 a.m.,” he said. “I think this is an important reminder that come November, we have plenty of voting machines around the entre the county.”

Some voters said they had to wait six hours in line and some said they were forced to wait in line until about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.