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New Texas Election Process Has Democrats Expecting A Delay In Super Tuesday Delegate Totals

Voters cast their ballots at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center in Houston on Nov. 5, 2019.
Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune
Voters cast their ballots at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center in Houston on Nov. 5, 2019.

As their counterparts in Iowa reel from a disastrously slow election returns process, Texas Democrats say they're worried that a change in the way Texas reports election results will delay the final tally of delegates won by presidential hopefuls in the upcoming March 3 primary past election night.

Officials with the Texas Democratic Party said they were recently told by the Texas Secretary of State’s office that it will not be able to provide on election night the numbers needed to allocate a majority of the 228 delegates up for grabs in the state on Super Tuesday. In a Jan. 23 meeting, the Democrats said, top state election officials cited limitations to their revamped reporting system, which is used to compile returns from the state's 254 counties.

"They basically said that's not built out yet," said Glen Maxey, the special projects director for the Texas Democratic Party who attended the meeting with state officials.

At issue are 149 delegates that will be won by Democratic presidential candidates through a complex formula that divvies up those delegates based on the distribution of votes in each of Texas' 31 state Senate districts. Maxey said he and other officials were told the state initially will collect election returns at the county level but not at the senatorial district or precinct level, which are needed to calculate how many delegates each candidate picks up. Party officials were told those more detailed numbers would be made available "the next day or so," Maxey said.

A spokesman for the secretary of state did not respond to emailed questions or calls about the issue.

Unlike in Iowa, Texas will be able to report statewide vote totals in the primary and a Democratic candidate will be named the winner of the overall contest. But with the presidential contest expected to be at fever pitch, the full reporting delay will slow down a final delegate tally in a state representing the second-largest prize on Super Tuesday. Texas is set to award more delegates to Democratic presidential hopefuls on that day than all of the preceding primaries combined.

In a statement on Wednesday, Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said if the secretary of state’s fails to report promptly the election results by senate district, it will amount to a “violation of the public trust.”

"Texas is more important to presidential campaigns than ever before and could make or break campaigns. With one of the largest delegations, in one of the most diverse states in the country, Texas is the pathway to winning the Democratic nomination. The public deserves to see the vote and the delegate results on election night, and we urge the Texas Secretary of State's office not to leave Texas voters and our nation in the dark."

Democratic party officials said they were assured in September that the secretary of state’s reporting system would include the data needed to determine the distribution of those district-delegates, as it did in the 2016 primary election.

The party is now preparing for an Iowa-like scenario in which the full delegate distribution will not be available until at least the next day.

Maxey said state officials "were very clear" they would not be getting the granular level information needed to calculate the delegate distribution on election night, and the party is considering whether it can independently collect the data from all 254 counties and calculate the delegate distribution itself.

That process would be complicated because some counties — including the state's most populous — are sliced up among several state senate districts. Maxey said that means the party would have to wait for complete voting returns from those counties before starting their calculations, which likely would not begin until after midnight.

The 149 district-delegates in question will be proportionally distributed in each state Senate district among candidates who garner more than 15% of the vote. The number of delegates up for grabs in each district is based on how those districts voted for the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor. For the upcoming primary, that number ranges from 2 to 10 delegates in each Senate district.

The possibility that the Democratic party will report the district-delegate distribution outside the state’s election night portal would make for an unusual venue for election results. For many years, the secretary of state’s office has been the keeper of election night returns. In the 2016 election, for example, the secretary of state asked county officials who administer elections across the state to send in both countywide results for the presidential primary and results by senate district.

“If we can confidently acquire and report in a timely manner election results by every category necessary to award delegate counts then we will do so,” Garcia said. “Transparency is our top priority. We will make further comments on our plans in the near future.” 

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Alexa Ura covers politics and demographics for The Texas Tribune, where she started as an intern in 2013. She previously covered health care for the Trib. While earning her journalism degree at the University of Texas at Austin, she was a reporter and editor for The Daily Texan. A Laredo native, Alexa is a fluent Spanish-speaker and is constantly seeking genuine Mexican food in Austin.