On April 19, the Harris County Election Commission unanimously voted to accept the resignation of Harris County Elections Administrator, Isabel Longoria.
This coming on the heels of what many would describe as a debacle series of events following the March 2022 Primaries. Longoria came under much criticism and scrutiny surrounded by complaints of staffing shortages at polling locations, equipment malfunctions, longer than usual vote counting times, and reports that over 10,000 mail-in ballots were not entered into the election night vote count.
How could this happen? More importantly, what can be done to fix the problem? Election Integrity is a very serious issue, not one that can be pacified with temporary fixes, but requires immediate resolve and a steadfast solution that would ensure this sort of thing never happens again. We witnessed much finger pointing on the days that followed this year’s March Primary, but who exactly is at fault? Does the Harris County Election Administrator deserve all the blame?
Here is a bit of insight from my prospective. Harris County Judge, Lina Hidalgo, appointed Longoria as the first Elections Administrator (a non-partisan position) for Harris County on November 18, 2020. Longoria’s position was created by combining the duties of elections administration and voter registration into one department. Prior to her appointment, those duties were split between two elected offices: Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Harris County Clerk. Longoria previously served as the county’s Special Advisor on Voting Rights and Access, which Judge Hidalgo touted made Longoria more than competent to serve in the role as Elections Administrator. During the 2020 election season, Texas went from being one of the lowest voter turnout states to being one of the highest. Longoria’s efforts were praised and credited for this drastic increase in huge voter turnout.
So, what changed? In multiple interviews and press conferences following the March 2022 Primary, Hidalgo seemed to shift all blame to Longoria, holding her feet to the fire by suggesting that a “change in leadership” might be necessary. One might dare to ask Judge Hidalgo, “weren’t you the one who expressed confidence in her ability to carry out the duties of the position that you and the county commissioners created just two years prior?
Here’s another interesting tidbit of information: In Texas, during primary elections, the two local county party executive committees (Democrat and Republican) are responsible for manning polling locations with workers. Precinct Chairs of both parties are responsible for finding volunteers to work the polls and serve as volunteers (watch polls, etc.) The issue of having adequate staffing at the polling locations isn’t the sole responsibility of the Election Administrator. A list of responsibilities falling under her purview are voter registration, providing adequate voting equipment and materials, oversight of the agreed upon polling locations and hours of operation, ensuring that all protocols and election laws are being followed, and receiving and counting mail-in ballots.
Harris County GOP chair, Cindy Siegel, was quick to criticize Longoria and call for her immediate firing or resignation following the fiasco that played out once the polls closed on March 1. But has anyone posed the question to either party chairperson – Did your county executive committees hold regular meetings to discuss the logistics of ensuring adequate staffing at all polling locations? According to updated resources of Harris County Party Precinct Maps; of the over 1000 party precincts, approximately one-fourth are vacant. Meaning, these vacant precincts don’t have a precinct chair representative from either one or both parties. Maybe, just maybe, part of the problem is that the county executive committees (for both parties) aren’t fulfilling part of their obligation to push for more participation from voters in their communities to fill the vacancies in precinct chairmanships by recruiting volunteers to staff the polls during early voting and on election day.
No one is arguing that ultimately the majority responsibility of ensuring a smooth election process doesn’t fall directly on the county’s Election Administrator. But as the old saying goes, “Remember, when you point a finger at someone, there are three more pointing back at you.”
Longoria’s resignation will go into effect July 1, 2022, this, to ensure that there is a presiding officer during the May and June elections and allowing commissioners adequate time to find a replacement.
So, what can Harris County voters do to help? Visit: texasforamericafirst.org for more information.
Texas For America First State Director