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County to request election probe

Profile image for By Britney Tabor
By Britney Tabor

Horn will ask Texas secretary of state to review problems

Denton County Judge Mary Horn has changed her mind and will ask commissioners to authorize her to ask the Texas secretary of state to conduct an independent review of serious problems during early voting and Election Day.

Horn said she has placed the “action item” on the Commissioners Court agenda for the regular weekly meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Courthouse on the Square, 110 W. Hickory St.

Horn said that county officials have had several conversations with the secretary of state’s election division office since the Nov. 8 election. In a recent interview, she had said there was no need for an independent investigation unless recommended by the state.

Horn said Friday, however, that she now feels it best that the secretary of state’s office come in and examine the county’s processes. She said the state agency possesses the best expertise at getting “the job done.”

“We just want to talk about the whole thing from beginning to the end,” Horn said. “Who better to do that than the elections division?

“I feel confident Commissioners Court is going to authorize me to send the letter on behalf of the county.”

Last month, a rash of problems plagued elections in Denton County: multiple equipment glitches, inaccurate signs at polling places specifying the types of ID needed to cast ballots, ballots delivered to wrong precincts, counted paper ballots being bundled with ballots not counted, and a court-ordered retabulation of election returns followed by an additional recalculation of votes.

Though vote counts changed with each retabulation, the outcomes of the races did not.

The multiple mistakes resulted in Lannie Noble, the former elections administrator, being forced to retire and two other elections employees being fired “for failure to correctly and accurately carry out their duties,” Horn wrote in a social media statement recently.

Within the last week, multiple residents have contacted Horn and other commissioners urging them to seek an independent investigation into last month’s elections.

Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state’s office, said the agency doesn’t conduct investigations but it does help counties and election entities in executing “election law in a uniform manner.” The office also advises counties and election entities on election law, lends expertise on whether election processes were followed as well as offering ideas on best practices, she said.

“We don’t have any specific powers on enforcement or investigative authority,” Pierce said. “We are a resource for election entities in Texas.

“We’re ready and willing to help counties with any information that we can.”

Most commissioners are in favor of an independent review into the county’s election processes.

Commissioner Hugh Coleman, who represents Precinct 1, said he approves an independent review.

“I think it’s a great idea. We need to work on transparency,” he said. “This is a step that we can take to ensure to the voters that we’re willing to look at any irregularities despite the outcome.”

Ron Marchant, Precinct 2 commissioner, said he urges the county to have the state independently look into the county’s election processes.

“It’s something that we need to do to satisfy our constituency that their vote counted,” he said. “It’s good to have a third set of eyes … [look at] what your processes are and where you failed in those processes so that you can move forward in remedying them so that the constituents have full confidence in elections to come.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Andy Eads said it’s “the right thing to do.”

“I’m eager to have an independent group such as the Texas secretary of state’s office come in and evaluate what happened during the general election cycle so that the mistakes are never repeated again,” he said. “We know already that significant human errors took place, and those employees have been terminated, but if there are any other issues that need to be addressed, we want to have those identified so that we can address them.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell, who was in a meeting Friday, did not respond to a message for comment by Friday evening.

Lisa Hendrickson, Denton County Republican Party chairwoman, said “the integrity of the ballot is of the utmost importance,” and it’s up to elected officials to see to it that “the ballot is protected.”

“I support whatever’s necessary to protect the integrity of the ballot,” she said.

Phyllis Wolper, Denton County Democratic Party chairwoman, said there’s been an outcry from the public as well as members of her party for an independent investigation. She said approval from commissioners authorizing such an investigation be requested is needed, and called it an opportunity to restore the public’s faith in government.

“I think we have a long way to go to restore citizens’ trust in Denton County elections, and I think this is what is needed to restore that confidence,” Wolper said. “I think we should answer this outcry in order to show that here in Denton County, citizens are the government, the government works for them and that we truly do listen to the citizens.”

Another supporter of an independent look into last month’s election is Frank Phillips, the county elections administrator, who’s been on the job a little more than a week now.

“I look forward to the Secretary of State’s examination of the November election and their conclusions,” he wrote in an email Friday. “I believe it’s important for all of us to hear, both for the citizens of Denton County and for us internally.”

With approval to seek the secretary of state’s assistance to independently review the county’s elections procedures, Horn said she intends to submit the request immediately and hopes to have state officials looking into things by early January.

“We will make everything available to them to help us review the whole thing,” she said.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.