AUSTIN (KXAN) — People walking off with their paper ballots and an onslaught of voters at large locations delayed the Travis County vote count until early in the morning.

More than 122,000 voters cast ballots in Travis County, 15% of eligible voters.

County poll workers re-counted ballot cards for polling places where there was a difference between the number of voters who checked in and the number of ballot cards in the boxes. The state election code required workers to recount ballots from 15 polling locations, which delayed the process until 3:45 AM.

Around a dozen Travis County election workers stayed up into the early morning, recounting ballots. When information rolled into the central counting location, they realized the 15 locations had a small group of voters check in but not place their ballot in the ballot box. They left with their ballot. Some even tried – unsuccessfully – to return their ballot after they walked away.

If a voter did not place their own ballot in a ballot box, the vote was not counted.

“As your mother would tell you, you just don’t know where that ballot card has been. It’s not secure any longer once you left with it,” said DeBeauvoir.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told the press Wednesday, those actions, required a total recount at those 15 locations, delaying the final results. It’s state law: if 4 or more people don’t put the ballot in the box at one location, they must do a recount. It’s a side effect of having new machines with paper ballots.

“Now that we have it, we’re seeing some consequences of doing this. And we want to do it right. It’s the law,” said DeBeauvoir.

KXAN has requested the total amount of ballots uncounted because people walked away with them. They’re called “fleeing voters” by the county.

What about those long lines at the end? The Travis County Clerk says that that is voting behavior also because one in five voters in the county waited until they got off work, after 5 pm to get in line at major mega-centers like here at Ben Hur Shrine, Fiesta on 35, the FAC on UT Austin’s campus, and many Randalls.

People continued to stand in line late at night at ten very popular locations. All along, more than 20 locations saw fewer than 200 voters all day. The county will double the staff it deployed last night for the busier March primary.

Although those problems are largely up to voters to fix, the clerk told KXAN they are looking at ways to help prevent this in the future. Some options are: being more pro-active on social media and trying to move people to other locations.

This was the opening election rollout to new voting equipment in the county, Express Votes from Election Systems and Software, which prints out hard-paper copy ballots for voters to manually put them into ballot boxes.

Travis County taxpayers put up $9 million for the new voting machines and DeBeauvoir said they were what local voters asked for.

DeBeauvoir tells KXAN the reaction to machines “was overwhelmingly positive,” beside the delays.

“This is significantly later than results have historically been completed in Travis County.  While some of the delay may be attributed to the transition to the first time using a new voting system, a major factor was the statutory requirement to re-count ballots in certain instances,” said DeBeauvoir.  

According to our news partners at the Texas Tribune, Travis County had one of the highest voter turnouts throughout the state at nearly 15%.

In 2019, there were 804,465 registered voters. 122,059 turned out for a total 15.17%. 46,987 people voted early.

In 2018, there were 787,670 people registered to vote. 376,056 people voted early out of a total turnout of 486,616 — 61.78%.

In the 2017 constitutional amendment election, 724,725 were registered to vote in Travis County. 97,234 voted in total, 39,866 voted early and 57,368 voted on Election Day.

The total turnout in 2017 was 13.42%.

Statewide, only 12 percent of voters actually cast a ballot in yesterday’s election. To compare, 59 percent of voters in Texas cast their ballot during the 2016 presidential election.