Polling glitch opened door for early voters to vote twice

More than 35,000 people in Harris County participated in the first day of early voting for the March 3 primary election.

FOX 26 has confirmed there were flaws in the election computer system Tuesday that, if left unresolved, would have left open the opportunity for a person to vote more than once.

The election judges at the polling places at Harris County Law Library and Fiesta Mart on Kirby told FOX 26 theirs were two of the polling places where glitches in the iPad software Tuesday could have compromised the integrity of the election if not resolved. Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman said Wednesday the glitches have been resolved.

“There have been enough snafus that I think any voter should have concern,” said Paul Simpson, the Harris County Republican Party Chairman.

The Harris County Republican Party launched a ballot security committee as a watchdog for the 2020 election, said Simpson. That committee identified some concerns on Tuesday and sent an email to Harris County’s Administrator of Elections Michael Winn.

“Mr. Winn, we are getting reports from multiple Early Voting locations on some fairly serious data problem,” said Alan Vera, the Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee chairman in the email.

He outlined three problems election judges had run into at several polling places in the county.

First, some voters showed up to polling places, but the clerks were unable to find them in the e-poll book database.

“An unusually high number of voters are presenting themselves to vote and the clerks are unable to find them in the e-poll book database,” Vera wrote in the email to Winn. “Via phone calls, the voter registrar is confirming the eligibility of the voter and providing the clerks with a ‘cert number.’ Your office is advising the workers on which ballot style to present and how to handle the omissions form for each voter. Poll workers are reporting that they are experiencing this problem at an unusually high level.”

The election judges at Fiesta Mart on Kirby and at the Harris Country Law Library told FOX 26 they were among the polling locations that encountered that issue.

Through a call to the voter registrar, they confirmed the voters were eligible and were given a “cert number” allowing them to vote. That opens the door for the voter to do the same thing at another polling place and vote more than once.

Election judges confirmed with FOX 26 Vera’s second complaint that old addresses were listed in the Harris County system, connecting voters who had moved with candidates outside of their precincts.

“Voters who changed their registration addresses last year and voted without problem in the November general and special elections are showing up today to find that the e-poll books have their old registration addresses,” said Vera. “Some of them were in possession of their new voter registration cards with the correct new address printed on the card. For some reason, the database feeding the e-poll books reverted to the old addresses.”

Thirdly, Vera pointed out that some people who had received mail-in ballots ended up showing up to vote in person and records did not show they had received a mail-in ballot.

“At least 2 Early Voting locations have reported voters presenting themselves with their mail ballots and carrier envelopes in hand,” said Vera. “When the clerks scanned the bar code created from the driver's license, there was no indication that the voters had requested a mail ballot. The voters surrendered their mail ballots and voted in person. But the election workers are very concerned that there’s no indication of requested mail ballots in the system.”

“You had people who had gotten a mail ballot, and they weren’t marked as having gotten a mail ballot, so in theory they could vote twice,” said Simpson.

On Wednesday morning—day two of early voting—Winn responded to Vera’s email, saying, “Thank you for sending me your concerns, after we talked with you, the Chairman and the voter you conferenced in, I got together with our poll book provider, tax office and my IT team to investigate the issue, we found that we had a sync issue. This did affect some records. It has been addressed. All e-poll books have been updated."

County Diane Trautman, who is in charge of elections, declined to interview but sent FOX 26 this statement: 

“Yesterday, the first day of early voting, we encountered a sync issue with the e-poll books; however, we were able to quickly resolve the problem and no voters were turned away. We actually had a very successful first day of early voting with a record turnout.”

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