High voter turnout, logistical challenges and, in one case, a fire alarm contributed to long lines and late-arriving results in Tuesday’s primary elections in Brazos County.
Brazos County Elections Administrator Trudy Hancock said Wednesday that eight polling locations had more than 1,000 voters cast ballots on Tuesday.
Voters encountered two-hour wait times at the Memorial Student Center on the Texas A&M campus. Another high-volume location, the Brazos Center, had wait times of approximately 90 minutes at some points throughout the day. Hancock said Tuesday night that the last voter at the MSC cast their ballot at 9:05 p.m., more than two hours after polls officially closed. Voters are allowed to cast ballots if they are in line by 7 p.m.
The unofficial voter turnout was 32,122 of 116,753 registered voters in Brazos County, or 27.51%. Of those, 18,890 people voted on Election Day at one of 25 locations.
Hancock said that 1,342 people cast Election Day ballots Tuesday at the MSC.
“That in itself, just the sheer volume, does cause an issue — but we also, they had a fire alarm go off, so they were evacuated from the building for a short time,” Hancock said. “There were quite a few things that went into [the long wait times], but mostly it was just sheer volume.”
In November 2018, 1,581 people voted in the MSC on Election Day, and 769 voted at the MSC on Election Day in November 2016.
Hancock also said that because this was the first primary with the new HART election equipment, there was a learning curve for those involved, and she anticipated future elections would run more smoothly as staff and workers become more familiar with the machines.
She also said that the local parties “did not adequately staff” the MSC. She said the MSC had five poll workers, and for that location to run efficiently, “it has to be staffed with at least six seasoned workers. … We can deploy more equipment, but if there is not staff, it is to no avail.”
Final numbers were delivered to local media outlets inside the Brazos Center just prior to 11:20 p.m., considerably later than in recent years for primary and general elections.
Hancock said that more election workers are needed for the November general election, and that the county elections office will head the staffing of polling locations in the fall. Those interested in participating as election judges would be able to assist in November, she said.
“We have a huge election in November that we will need to staff very heavily,” Hancock said. She advised early voting in the fall for A&M students on campus, and also noted that there are a number of polling locations within a mile of the flagship campus. The same 25 locations available for the primary will be used in the general election, and voters can vote at any location in the county.
“We do the full two weeks [of early voting] out there, so voting early would be a great way to help lessen that line for Election Day,” Hancock said.
David Hilburn, Brazos County Republican Party chair, said Wednesday evening that he would like to see an after-action meeting with election officials and workers, as well as party leaders, to analyze how to shorten wait times in future elections.
“Voting shouldn’t be a chore,” Hilburn said. “Obviously, there are things we can improve — we always can — but I think when you step back and look at the numbers, it’s a great problem to have that we have this many people interested in the future of our government.”
TC Langford, chair of the Brazos County Democratic Party, said Wednesday afternoon that she believes a second voting location on the Texas A&M campus would be appropriate.
“A&M is routinely one of the busiest vote centers in the county, and always last to close — primarily because the student and staff population is so engaged. We should be encouraging that engagement by making it easier, not harder, to vote,” Langford said.
Langford also said that she wants to see the message spread more widely that people who are registered to vote in Texas in a different county can only cast a limited ballot during early voting. A limited ballot is a ballot on which a voter weighs in on races and measures shared between their former and current county.
On Tuesday, 1,677 people voted at the Brazos Center. Just over 1,300 people voted at Wellborn Community Center and at Christ United Methodist Church; 1,057 people voted at the County Administration Building, 1,032 voted at Arena Hall and 1,119 voted at the First Baptist Church in Bryan.
Galilee Baptist Church in Bryan had 480 voters, and 378 voters cast ballots at the Lincoln Center in College Station.
In 2016, 18,999 voters cast ballots on Election Day at one of 26 locations. In 2014, 16,565 people voted at one of 36 locations.
For more information, visit BrazosVotes.org.
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