By Kristian Hernandez
March 3, 2020
Long lines, problems with voting machines and delayed openings at polling places caused frustration on Election Day across Tarrant County.
Joe Webber, 62, of Fort Worth, waited almost an hour after he showed up to vote at North Hi Mount Elementary, where he’s voted for more than 30 years.
“I know technology is the future, and it’s important to protect peoples privacy, but I also think it opens the door for voter fraud and suppression,” Webber said. “It’s unacceptable that Democrats had to wait in line for an hour while Republicans didn’t have to stand in line at all.”
As of 5:45 p.m., 111,905 votes had been cast in Tarrant County on Election Day.
Tarrant County officials had cautioned voters to expect long lines and encouraged them to vote during early voting.
Elections Administrator Heider Garcia said he received calls about long lines much of the day.
Unlike early voting, machines on Tuesday were dedicated for each party because that is the way the political parties, which run voting on Election Day, wanted them set up. Election officials said they reviewed past turnout data to determine how many machines to set up at each location.
Overall, they allocated 1,015 machines for Democrats and 1,767 machines for Republicans.
Garcia said some election workers chose to use the machines for both parties, rather than divide them up for Republicans and Democrats. In some cases, election workers with the party with short or no lines allowed the other party to use a few of their machines.
The Texas Civil Rights Project had received more than 40 calls from Tarrant County voters who encountered problems at the polls. The nonprofit based in Austin also received reports of more than a dozen polling places that opened late in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. At least four were in Tarrant County and involved problems with equipment, according to spokeswoman Ivy Le.
Anthony Mikolajunas, a self-employed Democratic voter who lives in Fort Worth, woke up early Tuesday to vote at North Hi Mount, where he’s voted in the past few elections. But a problem with the voting machines forced him to wait for nearly an hour.
“Technology is impeding democracy,” he said.
Around 8 a.m., the first voters who lined up in the Democrat line were just getting out of the polling place set up in the school’s gymnasium. Election Judge Kenneth Williams said officials had trouble with the new system and were struggling to “get it to work.”
Republican voters did not experience any setbacks and were in and out in less than 10 minutes. There were six machines set up for Republican voters and 12 for Democrats, according to Williams, who would not comment further about the issues they were experiencing.
Things were running smoothly early Tuesday at Fort Worth’s East Regional Library, where voters like Doug Forsey, 68, were excited to try the new voting machines.
“I liked the new system, it’s secure and efficient,” said Forsey, “It was easy to use, and I really liked the paper ballot because it lets you double check that the machine is working correctly.”
Vincent Simon, the presiding Democratic elections judge at the library’s polling place, said there were four machines for Republicans and seven for Democrats.
Everything was working as it should, Simon said.
The average time for each voter at the site was 15 minutes.
Long lines in Euless
Voters at the Euless Family Life Senior Center, 300 W. Midway Drive, walked out after election officials said the wait for the Democratic primary was 45 minutes to an hour. The Republican line was about 20 minutes. As of 3 p.m. more than 700 people had cast their ballot at this location.
“I don’t know if anybody could have predicted this turnout,” said Republican Election Judge Edwin Turner. “But early voting did foreshadow it.”
Delayed starts in Arlington, Fort Worth
At the Arlington Water Utilities Department, 101 W. Abram St., people waited up to two hours before they could cast their vote. The polling place opened late because of miscommunication about the equipment, according to Republican Election Judge Sandra Greenwood. The judge said the delayed start affected Republican voters. The Democratic side was open on time.
Yolanda Tatum, the Democratic election judge at the Charles E. Griffin Building in Fort Worth, said the polling place did not open on time because the building was locked and officials didn’t have enough time to set up the voting machines.
The polling place opened about 10 minutes late, according to Tatum, who said there were more than 100 voters by noon.
Most voters said they waited about 20 to 30 minutes in line but there was only one line for Democrats and Republicans. Tatum said she was not instructed by her party or the county about keeping the lines or the machines separate.
“They should be sharing like we are sharing,” Tatum said about the other poll places in the county where Democrats were experiencing long lines. “People from either party don’t mind standing in line with each other.”
The Texas Secretary of State’s Office tweeted that it has received reports of robocalls stating misinformation about the primary election.
“To be clear, all eligible voters should vote today,” the tweet read, directing people to Vote Texas, the office’s official account for election information.
Claire Barnett, a Democratic candidate running to represent District 122 in the Texas House, said that shortly after she finished voting around 1:30 p.m., she received a phone call with a recorded message that said the Democratic primary is scheduled for tomorrow, and that Republicans and Independents can vote in it.
“It said for more information, or to confirm, press one,” Barnett said. “I hung up at that point.”
Barnett said she was worried people would be misinformed, and reported the call to her elections department and the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.
“I think it’s really important in this day and age for us to remain vigilant and make sure that we are on the lookout for disinformation because we know it’s out there, and we can’t always recognize it,” Barnett said, “but when we can, to make sure others are aware, too.”
Delays in Mansfield
At Brooks Wester Middle School in Mansfield, two Republican voters stood in line while more than 20 were on the Democratic side about noon. Scott Stockman, a Democratic voter, said it was frustrating to see the same number of voting machines for both sides, since the Democrats had more voters.
“It’s wearing on people’s patience,” said Stockman.
Shawn Keen, an assistive technology specialist at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Fort Worth, couldn’t cast his vote privately because poll workers couldn’t get the audio to work on the accessible voting machine.
“I’m bummed and disappointed,” Keen said when asked about the experience.
Keen described poll workers contacting customer service for Hart InterCivic, the machine’s manufacturer.
Keen said he had to get help in marking his ballot and submitting it from someone who drove him to the polling location at the Middle Level Learning Center, 3813 Valentine St., Fort Worth.
In November, blind voters also reported similar experiences with the machines not working because there was no audio. They weren’t able to cast votes privately then either.
Registration site down
The site for Texans to check if they’re registered to vote was temporarily down throughout the morning.
TXReg.com, the website to which the Secretary of State’s Office directs Texans to check their registration status, was down as of 9:30 a.m. A “service unavailable” message appeared when users tried to load the site, along with an HTTP Error 503.
Stephen Chang, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office said in an email that the office was aware and working to restore the site. Around 9:45 a.m. the site was back up and running — but for less than 10 minutes before the site was down once again.
In an email, Chang said the repeated website crashes were due to heavy web traffic.
“We are working now to free server space and to restore it to working capacity,” Chang wrote.
The site was back up and running around 10:30 a.m.
* This article was expanded from Fort Worth Star Telegram.