Election tallies could last into Wednesday morning

HOUSTON The votes will be counted in Harris County Tuesday night, though officials think that effort will go well into Wednesday morning. It all depends how many paper ballots are cast.

Harris County elections officials estimate as many as 300,000 people could turn out to vote Tuesday. They're watching the sky wondering if bad weather could foul turnout.

"That might, in fact, discourage people who are not as committed to voting as we wish they were," said Jerry Birnberg with the Harris County Democratic Party. "We certainly hope that doesn't happen."

Elections officials have been scrambling to get ready for this election since the August fire that destroyed all Harris County's voting machines. Five-thousand new and borrowed eSlate machines will be in place for the election Tuesday at 736 polling locations around Harrs County. The county also has 500 backup machines ready for use if some malfunction.

Voters also can choose whether they want to vote by paper ballot. Unlike previous years, all ballots and machines will be returned to one location at Reliant Arena, where votes will be downloaded and scanned and depending upon how many paper ballots are cast, the effort, we're told, could take well into Wednesday morning.

"We can anticipate maybe not finishing, maybe not until 1 or 2 in the morning," sad Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman.

What happens in the polls will be watched closely. The Harris County attorney on Monday issued a reminder to poll watchers. Cell phones with cameras are not allowed inside the voting facility.

"One of the most sacred things we have in our voting system is the right of a secret ballot," said Assistant Harris County Attorney Terry O'Rourke. "Having people photograph you while you are voting is a violation of state and federal law."

It's worth noting that you must vote Monday at the precinct where you are registered.

Election officials prepare for Tuesday

On election eve, there were concerns about just what voters in Harris County might face at the polls. The concerns come after precinct election officials on Sunday were forced to wait for hours to get their hands on their election materials. It's a process that usually takes just a few minutes.

Eventually, most of the precinct election judges and chairs were able to pick everything up, but the long wait Sunday has some wondering if it was a preview of what might happen to voters Tuesday.

Things are going really smoothly today at Reliant Monday, as only 189 election judges are picking up their equipment; a very different scene from Sunday's pickup.

Normally, the election equipment pickup is Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 8pm. But this year, because of a fire at the warehouse that destroyed the county's eSlate machines, it was on Sunday and Monday at Reliant. Sunday, it was only open from 1pm until 6pm and since most of the precinct judges, 550 of them, showed up on that one day, there was a traffic jam that kept them waiting for up to two hours. Today, it's open from 8am to 8pm and just under 200 election judges will pick need to pick up their equipment today.

On Election Day, counting the ballots will be no problem according to the county because all of the ballots will come to a central location. The county says those closest to Reliant will be counted first and those farther away, later on, naturally staggering the flow of traffic into Reliant. They have also developed a system of stations which will work like a drive-thru so that judges can move quickly. The county and the judges we spoke with today are optimistic that everything will go smoothly.

"I think there has been enough planning that has gone into it," said Election Judge Jeff Crews. "I think it's not going to be from a logistical point of view, I don't think it's going to be much different."

"They drive up and there will be somebody there with a cart, they will help them unload." said Harris County Clerk's spokesperson Hector DeLeon. "The judge goes and parks. The person will stand there and wait until the judge comes back and then they go in together with the equipment and materials they are bringing back."

Early voting over the last two weeks may have topped 65 percent, more than doubling the number of early votes cast in 2006. The remaining 35 percent of registered voters will have to cast their ballots tomorrow. More than 800 polling locations are expected to be open.

The county wants to remind people that tomorrow they do have the option to use paper ballots instead of using the eSlate machines. Those paper ballots are really intended to be a back up for the eSlate machines and they're asking voters to use the machines instead because they say paper ballots take much longer to count.

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