BY NAXIELY LOPEZ-PUENTE AND VALERIE GONZALEZ
The Hidalgo County Elections Department announced Tuesday afternoon that all 74 Election Day polling locations will close at 8 p.m. following technical issues with the voting equipment.
“Ten polling locations experienced laptop check-in issues and though the poll location was fully open, the laptop issue prevented the check-in of voters in a timely manner,” county elections officials wrote in a news release.
Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramón said “making sure our voters have the opportunity to cast their ballot is our utmost priority. Extending the closure of the polls to 8 p.m. will provide that opportunity to the voters of Hidalgo County.”
As of 2:50 p.m., all the polling location laptops were fully operational, officials said.
It’s unclear what caused the laptops to fail.
“The Elections Department is working with the vendor to pinpoint the cause of the issue,” the release stated.
About 5% of 74 total polling sites in Hidalgo County are running slower on Election Day than their counterparts due to technical issues, county officials said Tuesday morning, though they stressed voters can still cast their ballots there.
The trouble is sourced to electronic poll books loaded onto laptops. These are used to check voters in as part of an initial phase of a three-step voting process.
“What happened is, when you check in, they look up your name on a laptop, and in some cases, the laptops were not working,” Hidalgo County Spokesman Carlos Sanchez said.
The polling sites affected have not been disclosed to The Monitor, but the Hidalgo County Elections Department receptionist said about 10% of the sites were initially affected. By 10 a.m., only 5% of the sites still had problems. Voters can still cast their ballot or be referred to another polling site by calling the elections office.
Election officials briefed other county officials this morning about the problem with the startup, Sanchez said.
A paper back-up system is in place as a safeguard for these situations. Instead of signing in electronically, election workers will manually look up the voters’ names and check it off the voter rolls — a slower process than the electronic one.
Yvonne Ramón, Hidalgo County elections administrator, spoke to The Monitor on Friday about Election Day failsafes, which addressed this specific problem. She said the information on the poll books will be safe.
“With the poll check-in, the backup system on it is such that it retains the information. What we are able to do then, is to continue to check you in manually,” Ramón said.
If the problem experienced at these locations led to a delay, Sanchez said the judge has the authority to extend voting at that specific location to replace the time lost.
Voters can call the Hidalgo County Elections Office at (956) 318-2570.