Why Political Junkies Are Frustrated By the Harris County Clerk
As results pour in across the state, Harris County not-so-patiently waits.
Around seven in the evening on Election Day for the past several years, just as the polls are closing across the state, dozens of Houston political reporters, campaign operatives, and news junkies take to Twitter for their favorite election-season parlor game: guessing when Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart will release the early voting results.
How long until the #firestanstanart tweets start?
— Zach White (@zachwhite) October 24, 2016
— kuff (@kuff) November 4, 2015
Most Texas counties have results available just minutes after seven, which provides an early look at the shape of the race. After all, the last day of early voting in Texas is the Friday before a Tuesday election, leaving officials four full days to collect voting machines and tabulate the results. But as results begin to flow in from across the state, Harris County always seems to take just a bit longer.
Houston Chronicle reporter Mike Morris, who has covered every local election since 2011, said there is “ample frustration” in the Houston media over the unexplained delays. “There are some mitigating factors—it’s big county, and in some elections the lines [at polling booths] have been incredibly long,” he said. Although Morris acknowledges that there have been occasions when results arrived in a timely manner, just as frequently they are inexplicably lagging.
And it’s not just local journalists who are frustrated. Without results from the state’s largest county, reporters across the country can’t get an accurate picture of how Texas is voting. “There’s no excuse for it,” said one veteran Democratic political operative in Houston, who compared uploading results from the county’s voting machines to plugging in a Nintendo. “Exactly how much time do you need from the end of early voting to add up those machines? You get Saturday, you get Sunday, you get Monday. I mean, Jesus rose from the dead in three days.”
The operative noted that Harris County released its early voting numbers promptly under the previous county clerk, Beverly Kaufman, who stepped down in 2010. Like Stanart, Kaufman is a Republican. “This isn’t a partisan thing—the previous Republican officeholder was very good at her job, and this guy, frankly, is not. It’s embarrassing,” the operative said.
In 2012, Houston digital strategist Dan Derozier, then working at the political consulting firm NetVictories, minted a hashtag that seemed to capture the widespread frustration with the county clerk’s office. “I was at an election watch party with some friends, and as per usual the results were taking forever to come in,” he remembered. “We were all standing around bitching about Stan Stanart, so I came up with this hashtag, #FireStanStanart. Then all of our friends started using the hashtag, and it just took off from there.”
— Dan Derozier (@danderozier) May 30, 2012
During every Houston election since, you can count on at least a few people using the hashtag. It was popping up on Twitter today before the polls even closed. “It obviously struck a chord,” Derozier said.
— Erik Vidor (@ErikVidor) May 25, 2016
Our county clerk says it's good for people to be skeptical of voting process. Keeps officials accountable. This guy folks. #FireStanStanart
— Chris White (@beer_chris) October 23, 2016
Of course, the only people who can actually “fire” Stanart are the voters, and his position doesn’t come up for reelection until 2018. According to Hector DeLeon, the director of communications and voter outreach for the Harris County Clerk’s office, the criticism of Stanart is motivated by pure partisanship. “The law does not say that the early election results should be posted at seven p.m.,” he noted. “The law says that they shall be posted when the election officers in the count room determine they’re ready to be posted.”
But that answer didn’t satisfy the Democratic political operative, who requested anonymity because his current position doesn’t allow him to comment on elected officials. “If every other one of your peers, Republican and Democrat, are able to produce the results, and you’re not because it’s not mandated by law? I mean, good God.”