While Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman has tried to explain why the largest county in the state was unable to count ballots until many hours after the rest of the county clerks had finished their job and gone to bed, her office has not provided an answer to a more local mystery: Why was the polling location at the Baytown Community Center closed?
With more than 700 locations across the county, closing one location may not be unusual. After all, the lists of locations always warn they are subject to change.
In the Baytown City race the location appears to have been the only voting place planned for District 1, which was the only contested race.
The Baytown Sun asked the County Clerk’s Office why that particular location was closed and when the decision was made. The office did not respond to an email request for that information on Thursday or a telephone request on Friday.
Even though the local election was for a city office, the election is managed by the County Clerk, which is responsible for all polling places across Harris County.
Also, polling places are associated with precinct boundaries, which do not correspond to council districts.
City of Baytown spokeswoman Alicia Jauregui said the city had no role in the decision and there are no consultations with the county about voting locations.
An email was sent from the County Clerk to city officials at 4:24 p.m. Monday that contained a spreadsheet of voting locations and a list of changes, she said. However, that email was not seen by city staff until 8 a.m. Tuesday, an hour after polls opened.
Jauregui said the city kept staff at the Community Center polling location until scheduled poll closing time of 7 p.m. to direct voters to the open voting location at Sterling Municipal Library, one-and-a-half miles away. Those duties were shared by staff from the City Clerk’s Office, which handles the city’s election duties, and Parks and Recreation, which is headquartered in the Community Center.
As to the issue of broader concern, County Clerk Trautman blamed the late count on the Texas Secretary of State issuing an advisory prohibiting the planned use of an intranet connection to transmit voting results from 10 locations across the county.
She said the remote counting system had been approved by the Secretary of State and was used in election in May and last November.
According to Trautman, Texas Secretary of State Ruth R. Hughes issued the advisory Oct. 23, but Harris County was not aware of it until the week before the election.
Without the remote stations, Trautman said, the county reverted to a backup plan that required all vote counting cards to be read by a single computer in downtown Houston.
She said the process will be streamlined in time for the runoff election in December. That election will determine Houston mayor and other Houston races, but has no Baytown races.
However, a complete solution to the issue will likely require replacement of the county’s voting system, she said. That cannot take place in time for the November 2020 election.