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Texas county official to resign after problems with primary

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Posted at 8:34 PM, Mar 09, 2022

The election administrator in Texas’ most populous county submitted her resignation Tuesday following problems with last week’s primary, including about 10,000 mail ballots that weren’t counted the day of the election, issues with voting machines and a lack of poll workers.

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria announced during a meeting of county commissioners she would resign on July 1.

Longoria said she took responsibility for the problems during last Tuesday’s election in Harris County, where Houston is located.

“Ultimately, the buck stops with me to address these issues and conduct elections on behalf of the voters. I didn’t meet my own standards,” she said.

Longoria’s resignation came during a meeting which at times became contentious as some officials and residents asked that she either resign or be fired and some echoed the false and disproven claims made by former President Donald Trumpabout a stolen 2020 election.

“Our freedoms are being stolen from us. Our rights for a free and fair election are being stolen and we know who’s doing it ... We are no longer going to stand by and be silent. We’re no longer going to be miss nice guys anymore. We’ve had it. We’re fighting,” said Dorothy Hablinski, who told commissioners she’s been an election worker for years.

Others who spoke during the meeting, including some election judges, said they dealt with a variety of problems, including long lines because voting machines weren’t working and long waits to get help from technical support.

Late Saturday, election officials said that an “oversight” led to 10,000 ballots not being counted. Those votes — 6,000 Democratic and 4,000 Republican — were added to the final tallies on Tuesday. The new votes didn’t change the outcome of any races tabulated by The Associated Press.

Longoria was also criticized for a slow count that took 30 hours to complete.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, said the problems with last week’s election were unacceptable, including insufficient training for election workers. Before Longoria offered her resignation, Hidalgo had indicated she wanted a change in leadership in the local office that runs and manages elections.

“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 ... were problematic, we have no evidence to suggest that the full count once certified ... is not accurate. We don’t need to go there because that tears down trust in our electoral system,” she said.

As Hidalgo spoke, a woman in the audience could be heard yelling, “There is no trust.”

The March 1 primary was the first election of the U.S. midterms and the first statewide election that took place in Texas under new, tighter voting laws. Thousands of mail ballots were rejected statewide for not having the new, required identification.

Longoria said the new voting laws as well as rhetoric related to distrust about elections has become a distraction to conversations about how to make the voting process better.

“It doesn’t excuse any mistakes that were made. But to ignore the culture of fear and lies that lead to political violence and an attack on our democracy is to miss a crucial variable in this problem,” she said.

Last week’s election was the first time that many of the county’s electorate had used new voting machines that had paper ballots.

The number of races up for election was so large that it stretched each voter’s paper ballot to two pages, creating issues with ballots sometimes getting stuck as they were inserted into the machines.

Longoria said her office’s staff was stretched thin, forcing many to work for 24 hours straight or longer so that votes could be counted.

Officials said not enough might have been done to educate the public about the new machines, which were first used last year during an election with less turnout.

Longoria’s office was created July 2020 by the majority Democrat commissioners court. Before that, election related duties were done by the county clerk and tax-assessor collector. Before being hired, Longoria did not have much experience in managing and running elections.

County Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican, said he doesn’t want Longoria replaced but for her duties to go back to the county clerk and tax-assessor collector.

“They can get us ready for this fall when the big game is gonna happen or we can continue to blame Trump,” Cagle said.