Texas 2020 elections: Scattered reports of polls opening late, high turnout in Harris County as voting begins

Voters wait in line at a polling site at Bee Cave City Hall on Oct. 14. More than 9.7 million Texans cast ballots during early voting. The state is poised to set a new record for turnout with today’s election. (Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)

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Tuesday’s biggest developments

Judge orders Upshur County voting hours extended after morning glitches

[11:45 a.m.] Voters in Upshur County will have until 8 p.m. tonight to cast their ballots, after a state district judge extended poll hours because of a roughly 90-minute delay in getting locations open this morning.

The judge’s order said the morning delays were due to “polling equipment technical issues” that “were in no way created” by county officials, including the election administrator and her staff.

A spokesperson for the Texas secretary of state’s office, Stephen Chang, said the problem “as it was relayed to us was connectivity issues with their KnowInk e-poll books.” It had been resolved by mid-morning, he said, and voting had resumed.

A “limited” number of additional counties reported a similar issue to the secretary of state’s office Tuesday morning, Chang said. Those too had been fixed, he said. - Shannon Najmabadi

In Burleson County, poll worker error prevents handful from voting for president

[11:35 a.m.] Four or five voters at a polling place in Burleson County weren’t allowed to vote in the presidential race Tuesday morning, and instead were only allowed to cast votes in local races. County elections administrator Dorothy Oliver said the error was caused by an experienced poll worker who did not realize they were supposed to give voters an access code to vote in the presidential race.

Oliver said all voters were contacted and agreed to come back to the location to cast their votes for president. The poll worker who made the error is still working at the location, but is no longer allowed to touch the machine, Oliver said. - Trinady Joslin

Polls open late at scattered locations across Texas

[10:45 a.m.] Although most polling places opened on time at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, the Texas Civil Rights Project said it had received reports of at least a dozen locations across Texas that were still closed by 8 a.m.

“What we’ve seen most affecting voters is late polling location opens,” said Zenén Jaimes Pérez, the project’s director of advocacy and communications. That’s fairly typical, Jaimes Pérez said, but, “this time we’ve had some clusters of areas that are particular problems.”

One cluster was in Hidalgo County in the Rio Grande Valley, where the project found polls closed at four schools. In Upshur County, in East Texas, the problem was widespread across several locations, although TCRP said it had been informed that voting places are now open. TCRP also identified closed polling places in Dallas, Harris and Bexar counties.

A cable issue at Keller City Hall, which saw the highest early voting turnout in Tarrant County, forced the polling site to open 25 minutes late, but a county official confirmed the issue has been resolved. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports about 100 people were already in line waiting.

According to Jaimes Pérez, officials have mostly described the problems as “technical issues” and many of the voting sites are open now. The organization is trying to redirect voters to other polling locations in the affected counties, but is concerned about workers that only have limited time to vote and could have missed an opportunity early on Tuesday.

“We’ve seen time and time and time again across Texas where polling locations are consistently opening late, and we know that there’s going to be some issues every election, but this is a large number and particularly concentrated in certain counties,” Jaimes Pérez said. “For some people, they can only go out to vote in the morning… And so when polling locations don’t open on time, that means that by definition, some folks might be disenfranchised or might not be able to vote.” - Juan Pablo Garnham and Kate McGee

Harris County sees heavy turnout as polls open

[8:50 a.m.] Some 21,000 votes were cast in Harris County in the first hour after polls opened Tuesday, according to the county clerk. Going into Election Day the county, home to Houston, had easily surpassed the early voting turnout it had seen in 2016. County officialstripled the number of early and Election Day polling locations this year, and increased the election budget from $4 million in 2016 to $33 million. Yesterday, the county clerk closed nine out of 10 locations for drive-through voting, citing legal challenges from a conservative activist and three Republican candidates for office. - Shannon Najmabadi

Texas students in some school districts won’t have class on Election Day

[5 a.m.] A number of school districts in Texas will be closed for Election Day, including schools in Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

The Austin and Eanes school districts have both designated a student holiday for Tuesday, when some of the school buildings in those districts will be used as polling sites, KVUE-TV reported.

The Houston Independent School District also will not hold in-person or virtual classes Tuesday, and neither will a handful of San Antonio-area school districts, according to KSAT-TV. — Mitchell Ferman

Harris County down to one drive-thru voting location for Election Day

[5 a.m.] Only the Toyota Center will be available for drive-thru voting in Harris County on Election Day, County Clerk Chris Hollins said late Monday, eliminating nine other drive-thru options for voters to cast their ballots just hours before the polls open.

Nearly 127,000 Harris County voters cast drive-thru ballots during the early voting period at 10 polling sites across the county, a safer option for some voters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hollins said he would close most of the drive-thru options on Election Day because of continued legal challenges from a conservative activist and three Republican candidates for office. A federal judge earlier Monday denied that group's attempt to have the drive-thru ballots cast during early voting tossed out, but continued to file appellate challenges over drive-thru voting late Monday. — Mitchell Ferman

Texas on track for record voter turnout

[5 a.m.] More than 9.7 million Texans cast ballots during the early voting period that ended Friday, crushing previous early voting totals in the state and setting Texas on a course for record turnout in Tuesday’s general election.

At least 9,718,648 voters cast early ballots, according to preliminary final numbers released Sunday by the Texas secretary of state. That is 57.3% of registered voters, just 2 percentage points shy of the overall turnout of 59.4% in 2016. Of those early votes, 8,745,565 were cast in person; 973,083 were cast by mail.

Early voting, which Gov. Greg Abbott extended by six days this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, has already eclipsed total votes during the 2016 general election, when 8,969,226 Texans voted. — Jeremy Schwartz and Mandi Cai

Tarrant County’s tightest races may be undecided until later this week due to staffing shortage

[5 a.m.] Tarrant County officials warn that coronavirus-related staffing shortages mean elections workers are unlikely to finish counting mail-in ballots Tuesday night, potentially leaving the county’s tightest races undecided until later this week.

On Monday, Tarrant County scrambled to add 56 more ballot board members to work around the clock in what is the most competitive election up and down the ballot in the county in years. Tarrant County, the largest Republican-controlled county in the state, is home to a number of state legislative races and at least one congressional race that are expected to be tight.

The mad dash comes after local officials realized this weekend that the staffing shortage could delay more than 4,500 mail-in ballots the county has already received but has not yet processed. As of Saturday, the county was still awaiting some 23,000 other absentee ballots to be returned. — Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff and Aria Jones

Voters have their say in several heated races

[5 a.m.] After months of campaigning and prognosticating — all during a pandemic — Texas is playing host to a series of high-stakes contests up and down the ballot, from a presidential race that could be the state’s closest in a generation to the fight for the Texas House majority. There are also a lot of hotly contested congressional races. Democrats are targeting 10 GOP-held U.S. House seats, while Republicans want to flip back two seats they lost in 2018. We’ve compiled a list of five things you should watch on Election Day. — Alex Samuels and Patrick Svitek

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