Patience is the central theme emanating from the Harris county clerk’s office as officials there are cautioning that counting the ballots in Texas’ largest county won't happen quickly.
“Harris County Election Night returns may be slower in coming this year due to extra administrative procedures presiding election judges have to perform related to the possible use of paper ballots,” says a statement from the county clerk’s office released late Monday.
So Texans might have to wait longer to see if gubernatorial challenger and former Houston Mayor Bill White has enough support there to surprise pollsters and give Gov. Rick Perry a closer race than predicted, and whether several Texas House Democrats feeling the heat were helped or hurt by White’s attempt to oust Perry.
The late-summer fire that destroyed thousands of electronic voting machines — which have been used in the county since 2002 — necessitated the use of the paper ballots for the early voting period. In that round, more than 444,600 ballots were cast, or about 60 percent of the expected turnout.
The county expects to have plenty of electronic voting machines on hand today, however, and County Clerk Beverly Kaufman is urging voters to use those devices.
“There will be enough electronic voting equipment at the polls to handle the expected Election Day turnout,” she says. “Paper ballots will be available at every poll. But I strongly urge voters to cast their ballots using the eSlate electronic voting machines as it is the system which is most familiar to them.”
There is also only one central drop-off location for ballots, Reliant Park, which might also slow the process. Officials expect to have early voting totals in by 7 p.m.
Kaufman also says voters will notice “slight differences” today: state and federal inspectors and more poll watchers than usual.
Conservative groups, specifically the King Street Patriots in Houston, have called for more watchers after they warned of a massive voter fraud scheme in Texas, which the Texas Democratic Party quickly denounced.
“This sudden interest in poll watching by Tea Party Republicans across Texas follows an early voting period in Harris County where an unprecedented number of instances of voter intimidation were reported, overwhelmingly in minority areas,” the party said in a statement Monday.
Last week U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, asked the Department of Justice to send inspectors to keep a closer watch in Houston following the allegations of voter suppression and intimidation.
Also on Monday, the conservative Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, or ALIPAC, called for a nationwide effort to combat what it said is illegal Democratic maneuvering.
“ALIPAC is calling on allied organizations, Tea Party groups, and conservative campaigns and activists to transport like minded voters to the polls on Election Day. This will compensate for voter fraud and illegal immigrant voters being fielded by the Democratic political machines,” the group said in a statement.