It's exam time. Is the Denton County Elections Administration office ready?
Elections officials say they're prepared for success when early voting polls open Monday, and they are confident there won't be a repeat of last November's election debacle.
Last year's general election was plagued with problems. Voters and voting officials reported equipment glitches, inaccurate voter ID signs posted at polling locations, ballots delivered to the wrong precincts and counted paper ballots bundled with ballots not counted. Elections officials recalculated the November vote three times.
Since then, the county rehired Frank Phillips, its former elections administrator. He left Denton County to lead the Tarrant County elections office from 2014 to 2016. Since his return, he has hired more employees to assist the once-understaffed department, created checklists and implemented procedures to make sure vital functions are checked multiple times.
"Part of our new process — everything we do — is double- and triple-checked," Phillips said. "It shouldn't be anything happening like that in May."
A dozen mayoral races are on the ballot with city council and school board races around the county. In addition, the Argyle, Lewisville, Northwest, Pilot Point and Sanger school districts have bond referendums. Denton and six other cities and towns have propositions on the ballot, too.
About 450,000 county residents are eligible to vote in the upcoming election, Phillips said. Voter turnout for local elections typically has been between 6 percent and 7 percent. In 2016, 7.56 of the county's 377,308 eligible voters cast ballots in the local elections, up from 6.4 percent of the 336,679 eligible voters in 2015.
Typically, more voters turn out for presidential elections, but local elections are just as important, Phillips said.
"I think it behooves people to check those things out and vote in May because it does affect your tax dollars," he said.
A new path
Four of Phillips' hires followed him from Tarrant County to take jobs in Denton. Both counties use the same election equipment, which smoothed the new employees' transition and and made training faster, Phillips said.
He promoted three other staff members. The changes improved a department that Phillips called "woefully understaffed."
"I think it's a tremendous improvement over what we had before," Phillips said. "When you have too few people, you're asking too few people to do too many things, and this has alleviated that problem."
After the May 6 election, Phillips said he wants to add a help desk to assist election judges and poll workers in the future. County officials also are talking about purchasing new voting equipment, but nothing is finalized.
In February and March, the Denton County Elections Administration got in a few trial runs before the May elections with a special election and runoff in Frisco. Though small, it gave the county an opportunity to implement new policies.
"It was just a good trial run to get everyone on their feet after November," Phillips said.
Should voters have a problem during the May election, Phillips encourages them to try to resolve the issue with an election judge at the polling place before casting their ballot. If they can't reach a resolution, voters are encouraged to contact the elections office at 940-349-3200 before voting.
Once a voter casts a ballot, it cannot be corrected.
Beginning Monday and through May 2, registered voters can vote early at any of the county's 28 poll locations. All of the local elections during early voting are conducted by electronic ballot, which has been the practice for several years, Phillips said.
On May 6, voters are required to cast ballots at their assigned polling location.
Early voting locations are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through next Saturday, April 29, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 1 and 2. The Denton Civic Center early voting location will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, and will be closed on Saturday, April 29.
For polling location details and a complete list of contests, propositions and bond referendums on the May 6 ballot, sample ballots and other information, visit votedenton.com.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876.