The Travis County clerk’s office says the crash of its election results website on Tuesday’s election night was due to an overtaxed web server, and it pointed the finger of blame at six new video feeds that are required as a measure of transparency under the state’s new elections laws.
However, county clerk’s offices in Williamson and Hays counties — which faced the same new requirements and had the same amount of time to implement them — reported no such problems with their websites due to the cameras. There have been no similar reports from any other major Texas counties since the just-completed primary election.
The Travis County clerk’s office website was down for about 40 minutes starting at 7 p.m., just as initial results in the Democrat and Republican primaries were expected, and caused angst among candidates and voters who had no idea how the various races were unfolding.
The clerk’s office said the problems with the website had no impact on the counting of ballots for the primary races on Tuesday.
Unable to revive the site until later in the night, the clerk’s office posted the first batch of results on Travis County’s main website. Those results captured all of the ballots submitted during the 11-day early voting period.
Scott Flom, head of information technology for the clerk’s office, said the problem was a combination of more people trying to use the site than the staff had anticipated, as well as the system underperforming compared with earlier tests.
He said the usual backup measures to keep the server stabilized were not in place but will be added back into the system.
“The wild card in this election was we had very little time to set up the camera infrastructure,” Flom said. “My team had to come up to speed on the technology and the technologies available. There are a lot of ways to do this. We had to find the right one. We felt we did. We know we did. And once that was done, then we had to implement it, set it all up.”
The cameras that the clerk’s office blames for triggering the outage were required under Senate Bill 1, the controversial elections bill the Legislature passed last year in response to fraud concerns by some Republicans after Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential race.
Among other things, the bill required counties with populations of 100,000 or more — which includes Travis, Williamson and Hays counties — to implement a video surveillance system that records all areas containing voted ballots. That video is to be available to the public through a livestream, and, after the election, must be retained until the end of the year.
Interim Travis County Clerk Rebecca Guerrero, who county commissioners appointed in January to replace the recently retired Dana DeBeauvoir, said the state was slow to release specific guidance on Senate Bill 1. Specific requirements were sent out Feb. 4, she said, which left her office with limited time to finalize the camera setup and test equipment.
Mark Littlefield, an Austin-based political consultant, said the disruption primarily affected those involved in county-level campaigns and those who follow politics closely. He said that in a time when election integrity is a politically charged talking point nationally and in Texas, ensuring results are released on time is critical to securing community trust.
“The last thing you want is for everything to go right when it comes to voter registration, mail ballots, early voting and on election day, and then, all of a sudden, the reporting seems flawed,” he said. “This is not the right environment for that kind of thing to happen.”
Littlefield said he does not believe there were any inaccuracies with the results the clerk’s office reported.
The Travis County clerk’s office says it brought four cameras online during the early voting period and said the remaining two cameras were added Monday afternoon — one at the ballot storage vault and another at the ballot programming room. Flom said tests showed the system should have been able to handle the surge of visitors to the website. Earlier in the day, with all six cameras operating, the server was only up to 25% capacity, he said, which left a wide margin for additional users.
“We anticipated, based on what we were able to see just testing video feeds, having people in the office log in and see what it did to that utilization, and trying to scale it up to what we anticipated for election night, we thought we were fine,” he said. “Obviously, we weren’t.”
Flom said that per the state’s guidance, raw video footage from the six cameras can’t be hosted, transmitted or stored on the county’s network. To comply, the clerk’s office sends the footage to a data center that also contains the office’s web server. At the data center, two encoding servers process the video feeds and convert them into a streamable format and then transmit the feeds to the county clerk’s website on the web server. The six videos were available for the public to stream at the bottom of the page where the results were eventually posted.
Flom said he plans to increase the baseline server capacity during future elections to prevent the issue from happening again.
“On Tuesday night … we brought up a much larger server,” he said. “I can’t keep it on a server of that size because there are costs here, this is an unfunded mandate and I’ve got to stay within a budget. But especially with November, traffic will be much higher, we’ll take the lessons learned, and this will be a significantly larger server than it was.”
He said he will also equip the clerk’s new website, which was recently launched, to automatically spawn additional servers as needed to safeguard against future crashes. The old website was programmed to follow this process, but the new one was not set up as of Tuesday, Flom said.
Dyana Limon-Mercado is expected to become the next Travis County clerk after her win in the Democratic primary over Kurt Lockhart. Limon-Mercado said although the delay was stressful, the clerk’s office did post initial results the old-fashioned way — on paper at the office building.
She said there are other improvements she thinks could make the site easier to use.
“It’s not always very easy for people to find the clear and concise information they need, either to conduct business or to participate in elections,” she said. “I think there’s definitely always room for improvement both on the clerk’s website and votetravis.com, which is a joint website between the registrar’s office and the clerk’s office.”
Tuesday’s crash is just the latest hiccup for the clerk’s office. In the May 2021 municipal election, the office mistakenly published the home addresses for voters whose personal information is required by state law to be protected from disclosure, including judges and victims of family violence.