Election administrators identified another error in vote tabulations after a recent ballot recalculation was conducted and had to tabulate returns a third time, they told Denton County commissioners at a meeting Tuesday.
Election officials, however, said the latest error again did not impact the outcome of any Nov. 8 races.
Prior to commissioners approving canvassed vote returns for the general election, Kerry Martin, the county’s deputy elections administrator, told commissioners that memory cards designated for paper ballot scans were mislabeled and uploaded into a machine used for calculating electronic ballots and vice versa, resulting in discrepancies in voting returns.
It’s unclear if the mislabeling of memory cards is related to a previous error in which voter equipment was sent out to multiple county polling locations on Election Day in “test mode.”
Following Martin’s remarks, County Judge Mary Horn and Commissioner Ron Marchant, who was present via Skype, approved the canvassed election returns 2-0, making the Nov. 8 votes official. According to Texas Election Code, two county commissioners constitute a quorum. The finalized returns are available for viewing at www.votedenton.com.
“It’s been a long ordeal since election night to today to get things correct, and I wanted to be able to assure all Denton County voters that their vote has been tabulated and did count in Denton County,” Horn said prior to Tuesday’s vote. “It’s certainly been an experience, one that we hope that we never face again. We certainly learned a lot.”
Today, the county elections commission will convene at 9 a.m. in the 1896 Room at the Courthouse on the Square to discuss the county’s general election process. In executive session, the commission will interview candidates for the county elections administration job, said Horn, elections commission chairwoman.
Last week, Lannie Noble, the current elections administrator, announced his intentions to retire by the end of the month.
“The position was posted as vacant as soon as I received Lannie’s letter [Nov. 16], and we have two applicants coming in to be interviewed,” Horn said Tuesday. “I would like to name a new person, but that’s up to the [commission], so we’ll see what happens [today].
“I feel pretty comfortable that it could happen [today] because I think we have two great qualified candidates.”
Horn would not disclose who the candidates are but said the commission’s recommendation will be brought before Commissioners Court for approval, which she’s hopeful will occur “as soon as possible.”
“I’d like to move forward as quickly as possible,” she said.
The elections commission is made up of Horn, County Clerk Juli Luke, county Tax Assessor-Collector Michelle French, Denton County Republican Party Chairwoman Lisa Hendrickson and Denton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Phyllis Wolper.
According to state election code, the commission has authority to either appoint or dismiss an election administrator or receive the officer’s resignation.
Series of events
Voter irregularities in Denton County since the first day of early voting persisted throughout the course of this year’s general election. But things seem to come to a head on Election Day.
On Nov. 8, ballot scanners in test mode were inadvertently delivered to multiple polling locations, resulting in voters with paper ballots having to drop the ballot in a secure storage box to be counted later.
The next day, county elections officials revealed some Election Day paper ballots not counted were bundled with ballots that were. The county sought and received a district court order to recalculate general election votes.
Votes were recalculated Nov. 11-12, and totals were updated online that weekend, elections officials say. Most contests saw an increase in vote totals while four races saw the vote tally decrease, a Denton Record-Chronicle analysis of tabulations showed.
Following the recalculation of votes Nov. 11-12, it was determined that memory cards used for the paper ballot scanners and electronic ballot machines were mislabeled and loaded into the wrong systems.
The county began investigating the irregularity after a voter pointed out on Thursday that returns for certain precincts appeared incorrect, Martin wrote in a letter presented Tuesday. While doing a partial manual recount Thursday and Friday, as required by state election code, other discrepancies in polling location returns were identified, the letter states.
Election officials used a system called Servo to identify each memory card for the paper ballots, the cast votes recorded on them and the identification number unique to each paper ballot memory card, according to the letter. This process allowed elections officials to properly label each paper ballot memory card.
A paper ballot memory card status report from the database when vote totals were recalculated Nov. 11-12, and one from election night were compared and again against a list of polling locations used, the letter states. It was determined five locations had no electronic ballot results, according to the letter.
Martin then compared result tapes election judges printed off their electronic ballot memory cards and paper ballot scanners on election night with data gathered from Servo.
Martin wrote in Tuesday’s letter that with that information in hand, he discovered that eight precinct locations tabulated paper ballot results twice because mislabeled memory cards were uploaded into a system when it shouldn’t have been.
At three polling locations, there were no electronic ballot results because paper ballot memory cards were uploaded into a system designated for electronic ballots.
“Using all this information, I was able to make a determination of which cards should have been read into the system and separated from the mislabeled [paper ballot memory cards],” Martin wrote.
The cards were uploaded into a new database and a recount committee convened Monday to run the proper memory cards through the tallying system, Martin’s letter reads.
Those final results that were canvassed Tuesday are official election returns and available for viewing on the county elections website.
Details on which polling locations were impacted by mislabeled memory cards were not available at press time.
“We define our procedures, and we hone our craft and we have good policies in place to make sure these types of things don’t happen in the future,” Martin said. “We can’t change what has happened.”
Horn said election returns did increase “pretty dramatically” but did not change the outcome of contest results.
She said she doesn’t foresee any additional investigation into voter irregularities in this recent election cycle.
“This answers the questions as to what happened during the election and what went wrong and what we need to make sure doesn’t ever happen again,” she said.
In the midst of the ordeal, one employee was terminated at the end of a probation period. Another, a civil service employee, received a letter of intent to terminate his or her position. The employee has “a limited amount of time to respond if he wants to respond. If he doesn’t respond the termination goes forward,” Horn said.
That’s left two vacancies in the elections administration department in addition to the top administrator job.
Horn said she’s unaware of any additional terminations in the elections administration department that could occur in the future.
The two vacancies, Horn said, should be left that way until a new elections administrator is named.
“They should be able to bring on board who they feel is best qualified to help them accomplish their goals,” she said.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.