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Phillips: Denton County election systems were not vulnerable to tampering

Despite an inexperienced staff and other issues, Denton County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips said he doesn't believe they left the county's election systems vulnerable to tampering of any kind last November.

"There's nothing that we did do or didn't do that would subject the system to any tampering," Phillips said following Tuesday's weekly meeting of Denton County commissioners where he presented findings from a Texas secretary of state review of the county's elections processes that was completed in February.

Included in the presentation were findings from an individual assessment Phillips conducted of the county's November 2016 election processes.

Frank Phillips, Denton County Elections AdministratorCourtesy photo
Frank Phillips, Denton County Elections Administrator
Courtesy photo

Phillips told commissioners that inexperienced employees and the understaffed elections administration department is what the secretary of state's office believes led to multiple errors during the general election cycle in Denton County.

In December, county commissioners asked the secretary of state's office to review the county's election processes. This followed a general election cycle in November plagued with equipment glitches, inaccurate signs about voter identification, and several polling locations with incorrect ballots. Counted paper ballots were bundled with untabulated ballots, leading to a court-ordered recalculation of returns, followed by other vote retabulations.

Archived video footage of Phillips' presentation soon will be available on the county website at http://bit.ly/1Xl4Fu8.

Throughout Phillips' presentation, he also discussed voting equipment deployed to polling locations in incorrect modes and mislabeled memory cards and ballot boxes that resulted in a discrepancy of voting returns.

"These are very simple things, and that's what makes some of this so hard to accept," he said.

Prior to the visit from secretary of state officials, the county hired four additional employees, created checklists and implemented procedures to make sure vital functions are checked multiple times by multiple people. Phillips also said they've put measures in place to streamline mail-in ballot applications and verify voter signatures, an electronic task manager that indicates what duties must be done and who's responsible for them, a database to stay up to date and send out notifications to poll workers, and technology for tracking every piece of voting equipment at any time. 

Additional training also is being made available to elections employees and those who work at polling sites during elections, Phillips said.

"We're going back to the basics," he said.

Commissioner Hugh Coleman said he was glad the county had "a good, thorough review" of election processes but wished the state's assessment could have been more in-depth.

"I would have liked to see them investigate more the allegations regarding the voter ID postings. I would have liked to see that looked at further," Coleman said. "I still don't believe just throwing money at a problem or having more employees is the answer.

"Voting is extremely important. Voting integrity is important. It should be our No. 1 priority. Having good and fair elections is what we need to keep our democracy safe."

Commissioner Ron Marchant said commissioners had an "inkling" of what caused the avalanche of problems last November, and the secretary of state's review confirms those suspicious. He thanked the state, as well as Phillips, for looking into the matter and for their thoroughness.

"I hope this is reported in a way within the newspaper that puts a positive spin" on how things were looked into, Marchant said. "Elections are very, very important to us as elected officials. This is the way we get our jobs.

"We do not take it lightly. We take it very, very seriously. The things that you [Phillips] have showed us, that you have done, prove ... that point to the letter in making our election[s] the best it can be."

County Judge Mary Horn said she also was pleased with the findings presented Tuesday.

"We thought we knew what happened, but we wanted to know for sure what happened," she said. "I think we've got our questions answered and are ready to move forward and look forward to continued success out of our elections department."

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876.