Harris County Elections releases unofficial results from March 1 Primary Election Thursday

Harris County Elections releases unofficial results from March 1 Primary Election Thursday

HARRIS COUNTYLIVE UPDATES:

12:30 A.M.: Harris County’s unofficial elections results were released early Thursday.

Over 340,000 ballots were cast, with nearly 14% of eligible registered voters casting ballots, the Office of Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said.

The semi-official results officially came in close to midnight, which was hours after Harris County Republican Party Chairman Cindy Siegel filed a petition at 5:13 p.m. Wednesday requesting that the judge supervise the process of counting ballots in addition to wanting elections records to be impounded. The judge decided not to impound the election records and the process of counting the ballots resumed.

9:30 P.M.: Vote counting resumed. Ballots will continue to be counted until all sides meet with a judge to provide an update on where they stand at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night. If all the votes haven’t been counted by that time, the judge will decide what happens next.

Earlier, the Harris County Republican Party filed an impoundment petition asking to extend the deadline to count the votes, said Beth Stevens, Chief Director of Voting for the Harris County Elections Administrator.

Both political parties decided to stop counting some time between approximately 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. until they could hear from the court, she said.

Stevens estimated there were under 1,500 votes left to count when she spoke with reporters around 8 p.m.

Around 9 p.m., Steven Mitby, an attorney for the Harris County Republican Party, told KPRC 2 that a hearing was held and the judge ordered the elections administrator to continue counting. He said the next hearing is scheduled for 11:30 p.m. Wednesday.

7 P.M.: Vote-counting was put on a holding pattern, per Harris County Elections officials.

Below is previous reporting.

Moments after the secretary of state said Harris County election officials would not have the primary election results by the statutory deadline due to damaged ballots, the Harris County elections administrator denied the vote count delay and the damaged ballots.

“This has been a complete mess. We’ve had equipment delays, we’ve had equipment problems -- equipment wasn’t delivered, we had polls that we’re unable to be set up. And now ballots that won’t be counted in time by tomorrow, 24 hours after they close? And this should have been planned,” said Harris County Republican Chair Cindy Siegel.

On a scale of one to 10, Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt rated this experience a one.

He spoke to KPRC 2 Investigates reporter Mario Diaz about the issue.

“This is the worst election that I’ve seen from a central processing count unit that’s being run by an election administrator or county clerk in my whole history of looking at elections,” Bettencourt said.

Diaz asked what would it take to improve.

“Harris County can’t get it right until they get the right leadership that understands how elections are supposed to be done in Texas under the code,” he explained, adding that, in his opinion, the problem was with machines jamming.

“When they jam up, they have to be rekeyed by hand,” Bettencourt said.

Bettencourt further explained that some election equipment was not delivered on time and he believes that the election administrator is too inexperienced to get the job done.

“This is a really incompetent, lack of management preparation, total lack of oversight in the nation’s third largest county,” he said.

[WATCH THE BONUS RAW VIDEO of KPRC 2′s Mario Diaz with Sen. Paul Bettencourt]

KPRC 2 Investigates Reporter Mario Diaz interviews Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt about issues on Election Day, March 1. Bettencourt says Harris County just can't seem to get it right.

Secretary of State John Scott said his office was informed that Harris County officials will not be able to count and report results for all early and Election Day votes by the deadline of 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Scott issued the following statement and offered assistance to Harris County to help ensure that all ballots are counted in accordance with the state law:

“We are closely monitoring the progress of ballot tabulation in Harris County to ensure all relevant election laws are followed and that legitimately cast ballots by Harris County voters in both the Democratic and Republican Primary Elections are counted accurately and timely,” Secretary Scott said. “Harris County election officials have indicated to our office that the delay in ballot tabulation is due only to damaged ballot sheets that must be duplicated before they can be scanned by ballot tabulators at the central count location. Our office stands ready to assist Harris County election officials, and all county election officials throughout the state, in complying with Texas Election Code requirements for accurately tabulating and reporting Primary Election results. We want to ensure that all Texans who have cast a ballot in this year’s Primary Elections can have confidence in the accuracy of results.”

Section 66.053 of the Texas Election Code, which has been law since at least 1986, requires that precinct election records be delivered to the appropriate authority, in this case the respective parties holding primary elections, not later than 24 hours after the polls close in each election. Failing to deliver the precinct election returns to the appropriate authority by the deadline is a Class B Misdemeanor.

Section 65.002 of the Texas Election Code, which has been law since 2009, requires that the counting of ballots be conducted continuously until all ballots are counted.

Section 31.005 of the Texas Election Code, which has been law since at least 1986, empowers the Texas Secretary of State to order a person performing official functions in the administration of any part of the electoral processes to correct offending conduct if the secretary determines that the person is exercising the powers vested in that person in a manner that delays or cancels an election that the person does not have specific statutory authority to delay or cancel unless acting under an order of a court of competent jurisdiction.

While Texas law allows provisional ballots and corrected mail-in ballots to be counted up to six days after Election Day, early votes and Election Day votes must be counted within 24 hours of the polls closing on Election Day (Sec. 66.053).

In response to the secretary of state, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said this is “typical for Harris County” being that it is a big county and it takes the judges a long time to pack up equipment and drop off ballots.

WATCH: Longoria addresses delays in primary vote count

Here's what we know

“Harris County has never said we’re not counting. Harris County has never said that we’re not counting the results tonight. Harris County has never said that we’re not able to return results. We had a meeting earlier with the Republican and Democratic parties at the Secretary of State, those parties were nervous because of the new implementations, the civil penalties that can be excised,” Longoria said.

She went on to say that Harris County will have the election results counted by 7 p.m. Wednesday. She also pointed out the two deadlines, stating that Harris County has a “provisional ballot deadline and the mail ballot deadline in the next seven days.”

“I’m the nonpartisan election administrator running this election, I do not have a concern. What I am seeing is political parties and the Secretary of State who met about their own fears about what they perceived was going on with the elections and putting out information before he even conversed with us, Longoria said. “So, what I’m saying is, as a nonpartisan election official of Harris County, I am not concerned about our ability to get these ballot boxes in tonight.”

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