By: Shawn Syed
Election administration is complex, to say the least. Decentralization, low funding, and a myriad of other issues play a role in the problems of administrating our elections. Every single state is sure to encounter some form of administration problem during election season. Texas is not alone in facing these issues. Below are just a few different issues Texas encountered leading up to and during the 2018 midterm elections.
The State of Texas received more than $23 million from the federal government in 2018 for a sole purpose: enhancing election security. This money comes thanks to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). HAVA’s stated purpose is to establish a program to provide funds to states to help the security and administration of elections. According to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, only a portion of the $23 million had been used prior to the midterm election. A new monitoring tool, intrusion detection systems, and firewall protections were all put into place. The thought is that these tools will help discover potential problems by 2019 in order to fix them by the 2020 presidential election.
Texas certainly deserves some praise for working to fix administration issues for the 2020 presidential election. On the other hand, no county received any money directly to address election day issues.
During the early voting period, some straight-ticket voters in Texas faced a surprising issue. When voting for all candidates of the same party, the voting system reflected a senatorial vote for the candidate of the opposite party than the one selected by the voter. This problem occurred on a machine that is used across 82 counties. The Secretary of State’s office labeled the issue a user error and sent an advisory to election workers. It was estimated that upgrading these machines in only three counties would cost $50 million. The Texas Civil Rights Project advocated for triple-checking ballots before casting them because of this issue.
This was not the Texas Civil Rights Project’s only comment in relation to the 2018 midterms.
The Texas Civil Rights project, along with the Texas Organizing Project, sued Harris County for violating the Texas Election Code. The state law requires that polls which open after 7 a.m. be open for 12 hours. The plaintiffs complained that polling locations across the county did not open at 7 a.m., had equipment issues, and had voting delays. A judge ordered that Harris County keep certain locations open until 8 p.m.
Texas is not alone in facing issues in election administration. Polling places are often run by volunteers, who in Atlanta ordered pizza for voters. The pizza, though likely delicious, was delivered in response to an extraordinary wait time. Unexpected issues may arise such as those in Texas, or in Indiana, where there were not enough ballots provided to some polling places. In Arizona, a “system-wide hiccup” led to a system-wide computer failure, causing workers to scramble and wait times to increase. All of this is to say that many states face an uphill battle against aging technology, questionable security, and deteriorating administration infrastructure. Though potential ideas for solutions may differ, the problems in Texas highlight the need for a keener eye on ground level administration issues in elections.