Vote Early, Vote Twice in Travis and Williamson Counties

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Due to errors on the first round of ballots mailed to voters, thousands in Travis and Williamson Counties will receive two ballots for the November 6thElection. Both counties claim they are on top of the problem, but this situation will raise serious questions about the validity of the vote counts. The two counties are already dodging questions about the exact number of incorrect ballots that were sent and for which voting districts.

Williamson county sent an estimated 8,000 ballots that omitted William Bryan Strange III, Libertarian candidate for presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Travis County sent an estimated 1,500 ballots omitting the certified write-in candidates. Those are not the actual numbers of incorrect ballots, however. The two counties are refusing to give an exact number or specifics on where those ballots were mailed and to whom. Election Law forbids the release of the names of voters who applied for ballot by mail until after the election. That law was not written for a case such as this, though, and an exception should be made.

Between Travis and Williamson, this issue could affect the races for US Senator, 6 US Representatives, 6 statewide offices including Governor, 4 places on the Texas Supreme Court including the Presiding Judge, 2 members of the Court of Criminal Appeals, 3 State Senators, 6 State Representatives, 4 members of the 3rdCourt of Criminal Appeals, 7 Countywide offices, and 7 Justices of the Peace. On the local level, Travis County has 3 Mayors, 17 City Council Members, 19 School Board Trustees, 4 Library District Trustees, 5 MUD Directors, and 5 Limited District Directors with contested races on the ballot. Travis also has 2 Bond Elections and 27 Propositions up for vote. That’s quite a lot of races that could be affected, but the Elections Administrators will not reveal which districts received the incorrect ballots along with the corrected second ballots. Candidates are left to wonder if their districts have the double ballots.

Poll numbers show the potential for numerous close races this November, and local races are often won by a handful of voters. Thousands of ballots are definitely a factor. Candidates deserve to know if their races were affected.

There is a real concern that a voter could send in two ballots with different choices. Who will determine which ballot to count? If they have two ballot carrier envelopes from the same person, do they just pick one and open it, or do they open both and compare? The process is very unclear.

What about the voter? The people who choose to vote by mail are often either over 65 or disabled. Travis and Williamson have not made it clear how these voters will be contacted and told that the first ballot they received was not correct. Many may see the first ballot, vote and then toss out the second, not knowing they had more candidates from which to choose. In Williamson County some may vote for a Democrat or Republican for the Court of Criminal Appeals on the first ballot. Then, on the second, seeing a Libertarian choice on the ballot, vote for William Bryant Strange III. How will the ballot board determine which ballot is truly valid? They can’t call the voter and ask, so how will they know?

The responsibility for cleaning up the mess is now in the hands of the Early Voting Ballot Board, a group of citizens who receive minimal training. They are appointed by the county chairs of the political parties and confirmed by the County Election Board. They should be vetted and trained by the county parties, but this is often not the case. Timid and less experienced members of the Ballot Board can be bullied or tricked into accepting illegal ballots. Do we trust a group of highly partisan temporary workers to find all the double ballots? If a voter does submit two ballots, which one gets counted?

The Ballot Board has very little oversight. It does not answer to the Elections Office. It wasn’t until the passage of SB5 in the special session last year that there were even penalties for members who knowingly accepted ineligible ballots. That provision may not be enough. With so much power in the hands of the Ballot Board, more oversight may be necessary. Where is the Secretary of State’s office on this issue?

Is this a ploy to manipulate the votes, a new kind of Election Fraud? Direct Action Texas typically frowns on expansion of regulations, but fair and honest elections are a core function of government. Citizens must be able to know that our elections are free from fraud.

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