An investigation into a West Texas school district’s bond election found even more ballots unaccounted for and a locked ballot box that officials cannot explain, leaving the community still looking for answers.
Unofficial results from election night showed 11,560 votes for the bond and 11,548 votes against, with military and absentee votes still pending. But the unofficial results were flipped going into final tabulation, with the bond failing by 30 votes due to an incorrect reading of the unofficial results from election night that stood uncorrected by the elections administrator for some time.
Final results showed 23,631 votes cast in the bond election: 11,803 votes for and 11,828 against the measure.
A recount of the results conducted on November 23 found that 11,400 people had voted against the bond, while 11,411 voted for it, giving a grand total of 22,811 voters having participated in the election.
In short, the recount found 820 fewer votes in the race than the number previously certified by the election’s office, with the bond now passing by 11 votes.
After extensive investigation, the elections office determined that the discrepancy came from the main early voting location at the elections office. Midland County Attorney Russell Malm obtained a court order allowing elections officials to open the ballot boxes from that polling location and count the total number of ballots in an attempt to find the discrepancy.
It should be noted that on December 2, while elections officials were trying to find the source of the 820-vote discrepancy, officials opened one of the DS200 electronic voting machines and discovered one ballot still remaining inside the machine. Officials sealed and locked away the ballot without looking at how it was marked. Since the ballot was not tabulated as part of the initial recount, someone was denied their voice in the election.
Election officials worked all day Thursday at the Midland County Courthouse Annex counting the number of paper ballots cast during the election only at the Courthouse Annex polling location where officials believed the discrepancy occurred.
The results further frustrated elections officials, as the margin of unaccounted for ballots grew by an additional 20 ballots, to 840.
In addition, workers in the elections office made an alarming discovery: they found a locked ballot box officials said they could tell contained ballots.
Malm gave a statement to reporters saying while they do not believe the box contains ballots from this election, he will be seeking a court order to allow them to open the box and determine what election the ballot box is from.
Early Friday morning, his office obtained a new order from a district judge allowing elections officials to conduct a new count of the ballots this coming Monday, beginning at 8 A.M. The order also allows the elections officials to open the mystery ballot box to determine its contents.
“It could be a problem with the electronic machines, or it could be that there are ballots missing,” Malm said. “We just don’t know at this point.”
For Brandon Hodges, a local businessman who heads the SPAC formed in opposition to the bond, that is not enough. “We got confirmation from our attorney that they believe that there was [a] solid case to petition for a contest.”
“I went into the media room and notified Russell Malm and everybody from the ‘We Choose Our Future’ PAC that we were going to petition for an election contest.”