HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (Nexstar) — The difference between which candidate is heading to a runoff for the Democratic Attorney General nomination is just under 1,500 votes, but that could change on Tuesday once thousands of mail-in ballots are added to the count.
The Harris County election administration identified approximately 10,000 mail-in ballots that were not added into the original result count from election night. The results will be tabulated and released after the committee reconvenes on Tuesday.
Civil rights lawyer Rochelle Garza leads the field of Democrats seeking to flip the AG’s office blue, but did not receive enough votes to avoid a runoff. Now it’s a race for second place, with trial lawyer Joe Jaworski leading civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt by 1,418 votes overall. Six thousand of the mail-in ballots Harris County has not added yet to the final count are Democratic primary ballots, meaning the results could affect who heads to second place.
While Jaworski claimed victory for second place last Friday, Merritt has not conceded yet and does not plan to until all the numbers are in.
“We want to wait till every ballot is counted to ensure that people’s voices are heard,” Merritt said. “We’ve all seen that the election has been a train wreck. The question is, who’s to blame?”
Jaworski said he is “very confident” he will remain in the runoff, even with these new ballots being part of the equation. Despite the uncertainty it creates for him as a candidate, he expressed faith in election officials and the thoroughness of the process.
“We have to be somewhat reasonable and understand that a mistake or an inadvertent error could be made. And once it is immediately flagged and announced, that’s the best they can do,” Jaworski said. “They found the problem, they corrected it. I think, in a way it almost shows the system is working.”
Harris County election officials discovered the uncounted mail-in ballots after the Texas Secretary of State’s office informed them of a discrepancy on their election night reconcilation form.
That form is a new requirement state lawmakers passed as part of the elections overhaul legislation, Senate Bill 1. It requires a written reconciliation of votes at the end of Election Day counting and again after processing late arriving mail and provisional ballots.
Brandon Rottinghaus, a politics professor at the University of Houston, said these are the checks and balances that should give voters reassurance, not doubt.
“These mistakes do happen. The goal is to get an accurate count, not a fast count,” he said. “At the end of the day — assuming that everybody made the statutory deadlines, assuming that everything was done fairly and correctly — that’s what your goal is.”
Harris County sent out the following statement about the issue on Sunday:
“We have reached out to and are working in coordination with the Secretary of State’s Office as we investigate the missteps that took place in this process. We are committed to full transparency and will continue to provide updates as they are available. While we understand the seriousness of this error, the ability to identify and correct this issue is a result of a lengthy, rigorous process and is a positive example of the process ultimately working as it should.”
The Secretary of State’s office responded and said, “We agree that this is the process working as it should. Additionally, it’s only because this Election Night reconciliation form is now required for all 254 counties that we were able to identify the discrepancy and work with the county to find out exactly what happened.”
Harris County also struggled on Election Day. Election officials had a phone call with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office on March 1, asking what would happen if their unofficial vote count was delayed. After delays and intervention from county parties to impound election records, the elections division finally released its primary election results early Thursday morning.
Rottinghaus said it’s important for voters to remember that continued counting after election is expected. Counties have nine days after the election to do a local canvass of results and have those completed. That deadline falls on Thursday, March 10.
“Once the protocols have been followed, once all of the rules have been finalized, that’s when you’re going to see the very final count. So the numbers are going to shift a little bit here and there,” Rottinghaus said. “It’s important for voters to know that these things happen every election cycle, there’s going to be a little bit of movement as you finally tabulate things.”
Grace Reader contributed to this report.