Lengthy waits at polls, voting machine glitches, ongoing voter ID confusion and the sudden death of an election judge. Those were among the issues affecting voters across Texas on a busy Election Day.
By early Tuesday evening, the Texas Election Protection Coalition had fielded more than 2,500 calls and emails — a combination of complaints and requests for information, said Zenén Jaimes Pérez, a spokesman for the Texas Civil Rights Project, one of several groups making up the coalition.
Civil rights groups had anticipated scattered complaints due to changes to the state’s voter identification requirements, but they did not expect so many, Pérez said.
Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, said her office had fielded about 4,800 calls as afternoon turned into evening, but most were “pretty standard” logistical questions rather than complaints.
Compared to early voting, “I think we’re seeing less confusion” about voter identification, she said. And when problems have come up, many have been resolved rather simply as voters continued to stream to the polls. “Texans seem to be showing some enthusiasm,” Pierce said.
Among the challenges that did crop up:
At a polling place in the Houston suburb of Spring, police handcuffed an armed man holding a sign reading “Faggots Vote Democrat,” according to the Election Protection Project. The man had crossed a 100-foot “no campaigning” line.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the arrest of a man who tried to vote twice. The man claimed he worked for Donald Trump and was trying to test the system, the sheriff’s Twitter account said. Phillip Cook, the man in question, entered one of just three polling sites in the county that had a police presence (the county has 83 polling sites), Elections Administrator John Oldham said.”If [Cook] had gone somewhere else, he might not be spending the night in jail,” Oldham said. “It was a pretty stupid thing to do.”
In Grand Prairie, the sudden death of longtime election judge Gary Cox delayed voting at one polling place Tuesday morning, prompting Dallas County officials to extend its hours to 9 p.m. Police said they found Cox dead at his home around 8:15 a.m. after he did not show up to unlock the doors at the polling station.
Voters reported — and journalists documented — long lines at many polling places across Texas. For instance, in Waller County, west of Houston, voters at Prairie View A&M; University, a historically black college, were waiting as long as three hours to cast a ballot, even though election officials had provided more voting equipment than ever, said Dan Teed, the elections administrator. “The county will definitely need to find additional ways to alleviate the lines,” he said. Department of Justice elections monitors are stationed in that county, which has a history of racial discrimination.
The Election Protection Project reported malfunctioning voting machines in parts of Dallas and Harris Counties in the morning. Meanwhile, last-minute polling station changes confused many voters in Harris County.
Civil rights groups had hoped that elections officials had ironed out most confusion surrounding voter identification during early voting, but some continued to bubble up. (In July, an appeals court judge ruled that Texas’ strict photo identification law discriminated against minority voters. And in August, a judge drew up a remedy that allowed those who “could not reasonably obtain” photo ID to still cast a ballot). At one polling place in Austin, for instance, Travis County elections officials had to retrain a judge on the revised rules after the judge had dramatically slowed the process for those voting with photo ID. The county clerk’s office said that no voter was disenfranchised. But a poll worker at the location — which skewed toward low-income voters — said the judge had one voter cast a provisional ballot due to ID questions when the voter actually had the proper ID to vote normally. The complaints were first documented by ProPublica’s Electionland project.
Christa Stevens of Denton County told the Tribune on Tuesday that she witnessed an older voter get turned away from the polls because she presented a voter ID card rather than a photo ID. Stevens said poll workers told the woman that she was “absolutely required to have a photo ID.” She said she called county and federal officials to report the problem. Denton County election officials did not immediately respond to a message from the Tribune. The original complaint was first documented by ProPublica’s Electionland project.
Neena Satija, Nicole Cobbler, Morgan Smith and Marissa Evans contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/08/voting-issues-texas/.