UPDATE 6:45 p.m. ET: A federal judge agreed to keep all nine polling locations open for an extra hour, until 8 p.m., to accommodate voters who were unable to cast their ballots due to long lines or other issues.
At least nine polling stations in a district near Houston may stay open later than planned Tuesday night because of problems earlier in the day, including long lines and malfunctioning machines, that kept some voters from casting their ballots.
The Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit against Harris County officials in the state Tuesday afternoon in hopes that a judge will force them to keep polling stations open an extra hour until 8 p.m. to accommodate voters. At least 16 polling stations in the district opened late, and when they did, some voters had to wait in line for hours due to technological problems. Many ultimately gave up because they had to go to work.
Harris County, with a population of approximately 4.6 million, is Texas’ most populous county. Though it’s typically been considered a purple area, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump there by more than 160,000 votes in 2016. The problems at polling stations in Harris County are particularly contentious given how close the Senate race is between incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. Polls have shown the two candidates in a virtual tie.
The county is also notably diverse, especially compared to the rest of Texas: About 42 percent of the population are Latino or Hispanic, 31 percent are white and about 20 percent black. Texas, as a whole. is about 70 percent white.
Vanessa Coleman, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said she arrived at her polling station, Metcalf Elementary School, at 6:45 a.m. to cast her vote and was one of the first people in line. Yet she wasn’t able to cast her vote until 8:00 a.m.
When Coleman arrived, the polling station was closed when she arrived, and didn’t open for another 20 minutes, according to the suit. When it did open, she was told that the electronic sign-in system wasn’t working. By 7:45 a.m., election workers started allowing people to sign in manually.
“The line at the polling station was very long, and I witnessed multiple people leave the line without being able to vote,” Coleman said, according to the suit. “People left the line saying they needed to go to work and couldn’t wait in line any longer.” She said that she experienced similar issues at the same polling station during the primaries in March.
Long lines have also plagued voters elsewhere across the country — in some cases, like in Gwinnett County, Georgia, wait times at some polling stations were as long as four hours. Civil rights groups allege that forcing people to wait for hours is a form of voter suppression because it disadvantages people who don’t have the time or money to wait that long.
Jessica Hill, another plaintiff and a teacher, was also one of the first people in line at her polling station, at John Marshall Middle School. She arrived at 6:30 a.m. but ultimately left without casting her vote, to be with her students.
“When I arrived, the poll workers were locked out of the building,” Hill said, according to the suit. They were able to get in 17 minutes later but didn’t let voters enter until 7:30, and when they did, they discovered that the sign-in systems were broken. Elections workers were on the phone trying to troubleshoot what was going on.
Other plaintiffs reported similar problems at their polling stations and said they saw people give up and leave without voting. A federal judge will hear the case immediately, and if they don’t agree to extend voting hours, the nine stations in Harris County will close at 7 p.m.
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Cover image: Nacogdoches County Elections Commissioner Todd Stallings sets up a check-in station inside the Nacogdoches County Courthouse Annex in Nacogdoches, Texas, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Tim Monzingo/The Daily Sentinel via AP)