An emergency meeting of a North Texas county’s election ballot board was held Monday morning to add more members to help remake defective mail-in ballots. This comes after the recent announcement that thousands of mail-in ballots rejected by scanners would have to be remade.
Last week, Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia announced the mail-in ballot predicament.
The scanning machines will reject a voted ballot if it is defective or damaged. Election workers then have to copy the votes onto a new ballot. In this case, Garcia said the printed bar codes used to certify the ballots “are not 100 percent legible 100 percent of the time to the scanner.”
He said remaking a defective ballot into a readable ballot is a standard problem nationwide.
On Monday at 10 a.m., an emergency meeting of the county election board was held to add ballot board members to help finish the process. These new members were recommended by the county Republican and Democrat parties.
Garcia said before the meeting there were 80 ballot board members, and they were adding more. “We’re adding 32 names the Democratic Party provided, and we are adding 24 members the Republican Party gave us,” Garcia said. “Some of those names are not going to be able to work due to certain circumstances.”
Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Rick Barnes supported the motion, pointing out he made the recommendation to add more members a week ago. “We have at least three members of our ballot board who have not received calls to come to work,” he added.
“We expect the party leaders … to be the one who reach out to the people,” Garcia replied. Barnes said he wanted to clarify that “there have been people on our board who have not been called by the chair of the committee.”
Heider stressed the top priority is maintaining the integrity of the ballot counting process as they add new members. “One of the most important parts we have is the trust we have in the process,” Garcia said, adding candidates will not be allowed to serve.
The new names were approved unanimously, and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley announced more benefits for those who serve.
“We have doubled the pay for our poll workers and our ballot board workers,” he said. County Administrator G.K. Maenius clarified the double pay applies for “contract workers,” while non-exempt county employees who join will “be paid time and a half.”
Whitley also said food will be provided for ballot board workers, and transportation can be arranged if needed.
As to where things stand now, Garcia said “almost” 90,000 ballots were mailed to voters, with the last batch sent out Friday. Of those, over 62,000 have been completed and sent back, and over 30,000 “have already been accepted into the system.”
Whitley asked what “accepted” meant. “They’ve approved the signatures,” Garcia replied. “The way we set it up with the board members is two passes of verifications.”
Garcia also warned some results will take time before they’re finally known. “The main message is, there will be counts, there will be results. … But like every election in the past, the smaller the race, the smaller [amount of] registered voters, the longer the results will take,” he said. “Our deadline is two weeks after the election for the final results.”
He added that some of the mail-in ballot remakes will be done after Election Day.
County Tax-Assessor Wendy Burgess said her office will take no action on tax ratification elections on the ballot until November 17, when all votes are tallied.
District Clerk Tom Wilder recommended candidates be told a significant part of the vote may not be known when the early vote results are announced.
While the situation is concerning, Christine Welborn, director of election integrity at Direct Action Texas, said this is not unexpected with the huge growth of mail-in ballots. “With the increase of people voting by mail, the errors grow exponentially,” she said. “I don’t see anything nefarious here.”
In a previous statement about the errors last week, DAT praised Barnes’ leadership and Tarrant County Elections for how they’re handling the issue. “However, the process must be closely monitored by all parties on the ballot to ensure transparency and trust in the integrity of the outcome,” the statement read.
As of this moment, Garcia said there’s no need for volunteers from the general public “so long as we get help from the county employees.”
Voters can report election-related issues to their county elections office, the Texas Secretary of State’s Elections Division, and local or state party officials. They can also contact election integrity organization Direct Action Texas at 877-267-VOTE.