Computer issues continued to hamper Bell County early voting Wednesday — the day after fewer first-day voters were recorded than in 2016.
Belton residents John and Maria Idoux waited in line at the polling station in Harker Heights for four hours on Wednesday to take advantage of early voting.
“They had a couple of machines down,” Maria Idoux said at about 11:45 a.m., when she and her husband were in line outside the Harker Heights Parks and Recreation Building at 307 Millers Crossing. “One is up now, so it should go faster.”
Two data entry computers at the polling site were out, which caused some delays, Jeff Harris, a Harker Heights City Council candidate, said. The issue appeared to be resolved by 11:45 a.m. as people began voting again.
Bell County had 6,097 people — 2,511 through mail-in ballot and 3,586 in person — vote on Tuesday, according to figures released by the Bell County Elections Department late Monday night. That is 3,004 ballots short of the record 9,101 voters who voted on the first day of early voting in the last presidential election in 2016.
Bell County Judge David Blackburn, who originally claimed the county had record-breaking early voting numbers, said lower turnout could be attributed to COVID-19 measures.
“We had a significant turnout on the first day of early voting and I think that is historically the pattern,” Blackburn said. “We did assess last night if there were measures we could take and still maintain the COVID protocols that we are also required to maintain. I think that is a contributing factor to many of the lines, that we don’t have as many lines in the voting precinct areas as we would otherwise because of the COVID-19 protocols.”
Tuesday’s turnout represents 2.8 percent of the 215,379 registered voters in the county.
Initially, local election officials expected day one turnout to be higher than in 2016. Nearby counties saw higher day-one turnout in this election than four years ago.
In Williamson County, 22,707 people voted in person and 10,705 voted absentee — exceeding the 18,066 people who voted on the first day of early voting in the 2016 presidential election, according to Community Impact.
McLennan County had 5,154 people vote in person on Tuesday, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported. In 2016, that number was 4,376, according to the newspaper.
Bell County Interim Elections Administrator Matthew Dutton said voting was slowed across the county Tuesday due to a problem with the Bluetooth connections between voting machines.
Dutton said the problem had been resolved Wednesday, but his office and the company behind the voting machines are still working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“There has been a couple technical hiccups,” Dutton said. “It is nothing the workers did. It’s just a connection issue that we are working with. We are trying to work with our vendors who supplied the machine to find a better solution than what they have.”
Dutton said the department made small adjustments to the number of voting machines at some sites, but everything else went well.
He said the elections department was well staffed for both the early voting period and the Nov. 3 election. He added that current workers are well trained and election day workers soon to undergo training.
Despite the problem with the first day of early voting, Bell County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Rosenberg said she still expects a record amount of turnout for this election.
“We are seeing voters determined and committed to not take our democracy for granted,” Rosenberg said Tuesday. “They will tough it out in long lines in the middle of a pandemic to have their voices heard. From September 1st to October 5th, 7,671 new voters registered in Bell County. These folks are younger and more diverse, and they are ready for change.”
Republican Party Chairman Nancy Boston told the Telegram on Tuesday that the long ballot, with voters needing to double check their votes, will cause some slowdown of voting.
“I was thinking we were going to have a record-breaking turnout this election cycle,” Boston said. “I know with the first day of voting it will be a little slow to get everything going. I thinking it will pick up as we go along.”
Bell County also has seen an increase in mail-in ballots requested by voters, with 8,342 requested in 2016 and 14,097 requested so far in Bell County. Mail-in ballots can be requested until Friday, Oct. 23.
Dutton said the late posting of turnout numbers just before 10 p.m. Tuesday should now be resolved, with each day’s turnout hopefully posted to the county’s site by 7 p.m. each night.
Tuesday’s results — posted just after 7 p.m. — showed that 4,346 voted in person at county polling sites. Combined with mail-in votes, a total of 12,256 votes have been cast.
FME News Service contributed to this report.
EARLY VOTING TOTALS
Here are the total in-person votes cast Tuesday and Wednesday at Bell County polling sites:
Belton Annex 559 690
HH Parks and Rec 583 670
Killeen Annex 572 529
Killeen Comm Ctr 792 1,055
Salado Church 544 712
Temple Annex 536 690