AUSTIN (KXAN) — Many poll workers in Travis County chose to stay home on Election Day, creating staffing shortages and technical difficulties. The Travis County Clerk’s office called it a “rocky start” and said “it seems people were fearful of the coronavirus.”

“We had a variety of different kinds of problems and it was up to us to jump in and make plan B work,” explained Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, who noted that the county is still working to recruit more people to work the election to make up for these shortages.

That led to long lines and even some voters being turned away from polling centers and asked to go vote elsewhere. Many tell us they tried to wait it out, but some say they saw voters give up and leave without voting.

“Unfortunately, I had to leave the polling center as I commute to downtown Austin for work,” voter Emily Cantrell told KXAN. She was not able to vote Tuesday morning as she planned. She hopes to be able to vote after work.

Tarisa Dean said she showed up at 7:30 a.m. to vote at the Northwest Recreation Center on Northland Drive. She said the parking lot was full, but people were leaving the center. She was told nobody had been able to vote, and a worker at the polling station said there was a technical issue.

“It made me worried that there was a larger issue. I was doubtful of the process, and I was worried if it was a citywide issue,” Dean said. “I think they were just not very well prepared.”

Dean saw about a dozen people leave without voting, but she stayed and was able to cast a ballot by about 8 a.m.

Nathan Winslow, 40, arrived at Milwood Branch Library on Amherst Drive to vote Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m. He was third in line. After the polls didn’t open on time at 7 a.m., Winslow estimated he saw between 150 to 200 people leave. The polling location was short-staffed, he said, and wasn’t set up on time.

Winslow said polling workers recruited two people standing in line on the spot, hired them and brought them in to help. Once inside, Winslow said he saw the recruits being trained at 8:15 a.m., and he was able to vote by about 8:20 a.m.

“The whole thing was unusual,” Winslow said. “It was an ugly start.”

Of 174 total voting centers, 44 had some sort of issue Tuesday morning that prevented them from opening at 7 a.m. Five of them had problems serious enough it prevented them from opening for more than an hour, but all voting centers opened by 9:34 a.m. For example, the Milwood Branch Libary’s vote center had technical difficulties so the county had to send in staff to resolve the issues and get the center back up and running. Voters reported that people didn’t begin voting until around 8 a.m. there.

DeBeauvoir explained that a few days ago, the county began seeing election workers canceling their plans to help out, so the County Clerk’s office made sure to call each election worker to confirm beforehand. DeBeauvoir told KXAN that her office was feeling confident about their staffing plan until a few minutes before 7 a.m. on Tuesday when several polling locations did not respond to calls from the county to check-in.

“Keep in mind that primary elections, Democratic primary and Republican primary are always emotional and they are always the most difficult elections that we produce, so it’s not unusual to have some judges that are late or some things that don’t go exactly the way you want them to at 7 am on election day,” DeBeauvoir said. “That’s commonplace and we build in plans for that, this one was just a little bit extra of those typical problems.” 

Here’s how the staffing played out in real-time after the polls opened at 7 a.m.

  • Open by 7:15 a.m. – 130 voting centers
  • Open by 7:30 a.m. – 164 voting centers
  • Open by 8 a.m. – 169 voting centers
  • Open by 9:34 a.m. – all 174 voting centers

As of 10:50 a.m., 35,778 people had voted in Travis County, and as of 1 p.m., 57,000 people had voted in Travis County on election day. As of 3 p.m., over 78,000 people had voted. As of 4 p.m more than 93,000 people had voted. The polls close at 7 p.m. DeBeauvoir anticipates that Travis County will see a record turnout Tuesday compared to previous primary elections.

At 3 p.m. the Travis County Clerk’s office noted that St. John’s Episcopal had no wait time at that time. To check wait times at polling locations near you, look here.

The Travis County Clerk’s Office says historically, the locations with the longest wait times on election day include any Randalls grocery stores, ACC Highland, the Ben Hur Shrine Center, and the UT Austin locations.

In San Marcos on Tuesday night, students were still waiting in line to vote at 8 p.m.

(Courtesy of Amanda Lattimer)

Want to help?

It’s not too late!

According to the Travis County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday afternoon, polling locations are still in need and accepting workers/volunteers.

The clerk’s office says clerks can make $10 an hour and judges can make $12 an hour.

If you’re interested in working and/or volunteering, you can call (512) 854-4996.

11 Democratic Party judges no-shows on Election Day

This morning 11 election judges from the Democratic Party simply did not show up at their voting centers and did not alert anyone. They were no-shows.

Each election judge runs the primary for their respective party and brings a staff of 1-3 people. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir estimates that when those 11 judges and their respective staff failed to show up, that created a last-second shortage of more than 30 workers.

Over the past week, 31 Republican Party election judges also dropped out, but that was more manageable because they alerted people they were leaving, and the county was able to back-fill those positions.

Ideally, Travis County likes to have six workers at each of its 174 polling locations, which would be 1,044 people countywide. The fewest people a voting center can have during a primary is two people — one Democratic Party election judge and one Republican Party election judge.

In addition to the 11 no-shows on Election Day, DeBeauvoir says there were also 10 or 11 people who showed up to work at a voting center but their election judge wasn’t there, so they simply left.

“I’m sorry about this whole Coronavirus thing, that seemed to be one of the things that our election judges were telling us is that they were concerned,” DeBeauvoir told KXAN’s Candy Rodriguez.  

Travis County shifted workers to fill holes after polls opened

DeBeauvoir’s office said it began “implementing its emergency procedures as soon as it became apparent that the number of no-shows was a problem.”

That included shifting some poll workers to other locations to even out the staff and help those polling centers that were the most severely understaffed.

“The ACC Stassney voting location was supposed to have 6 people staffing their voting spot but there are only 2 people there! Shoutout to the two that are there trying to keep it going,” one viewer wrote us.

“The Elections staff and other personnel are filling in as emergency recruits,” the county said in its statement. DeBeauvoir said they sent about 20 workers to help out at polling locations to fill the shortages.

Technical difficulties all related to staffing shortages

Officials say all the problems Tuesday morning were staffing related. When they referred to “technical difficulties,” they meant some inexperienced staff at locations didn’t know how to properly use the equipment.

Some locations managed to fix their problems. The polling center at Northwest Recreation Center had a printer issue they were able to resolve. A viewer told us it kept them down for more than 40 minutes, but they resolved the issue by 8 a.m.

In Del Valle, a viewer said three staff members failed to show up and no one was able to vote for about an hour and a half. She said about 20 people went elsewhere and one person reacted angrily.

Travis County voting center wait times

Travis County has a voting map so you can see how long wait times are where you’d like to vote. The wait times were not updated for a few hours when the polls first opened, but it has been working properly since.

“We’re gonna spend the rest of the day recruiting more of our standbys and having more people come in, so if anybody would like to come in and work the election, we can train you today,” DeBeauvoir said.