Dallas County elections are under new management, but voters are still experiencing some of the same old problems at the polls.
In December, Dallas County hired a new elections administrator, Michael Scarpello, who previously served in various election management positions in Nebraska, Colorado, and California.
Following reports of issues at several polling sites during Saturday’s local elections, Scarpello acknowledged the problems, describing the county’s current voting processes as “deficient” and saying he plans to improve procedures for future elections.
Scarpello replaced Toni Pippins-Poole, who retired at the end of November 2020 following a controversial nine-year tenure marred by mistakes and allegations of incompetence and corruption.
In just her last year heading the Dallas County Elections Department, Pippins-Poole and her staff misplaced thousands of primary election ballots that went uncounted for a week and sent out improperly printed mail-ballot envelopes despite advice from the postal service.
Problems continued into the November general election, including more mail-ballot misprints and delays sending out ballots, concerns about getting equipment to the polls, electronic pollbook errors, questionable curbside voting practices, poll watchers being blocked, and the county’s perennial challenge of finding enough poll workers (a responsibility shared by the local political parties in partisan elections) and properly training last-minute recruits.
“I absolutely think because of sloppiness, because the Elections Department was constantly behind the eight ball, there were little mistakes,” Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch said at a November 13 commissioners court meeting to canvass the election results.
Dallas County voters hoped a new administrator would improve the efficiency and integrity of Dallas elections.
But in Scarpello’s debut running the May 1 local elections, voters encountered some of the same mismanagement issues that plagued Dallas elections under Pippins-Poole.
As late as Thursday, the county was making last-minute appeals for Election Day poll workers on Saturday. The county opened over 400 vote centers on Saturday.
According to a report by The Dallas Morning News, at least five polling places experienced problems that kept them from getting up and running until two or more hours after the polls opened at 7 a.m. Three of those problem sites were located in District 7, prompting one of the eight candidates running for the district’s council seat to claim “voter suppression.”
Issues included voting machines that didn’t work, not enough power strips and extension cords, and poll workers unable to get into buildings being used as voting sites.
Because Dallas uses countywide vote centers, voters turned away at these locations had the option to cast ballots at any of the other polling places in the county; it’s unknown how many voters went to other polling places or whether poll workers advised voters of this option.
“This is very disturbing,” Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson tweeted Saturday. “We expect and demand that Dallas Elections run our City of Dallas elections with the highest integrity. Please address these concerns now.”
Scarpello said he’ll conduct a full review of Saturday’s election and implement a “long-term plan” to revise the county’s voting processes—including how his office recruits and trains poll workers, as well as how polling places are prepared and equipped.
Under Texas law, a five-member county elections commission is tasked with appointing and supervising the county’s elections administrator. Dallas County’s election commission includes County Judge Clay Jenkins, County Clerk John Warren, and Tax Assessor John Ames (all Democrats), plus the chairs of the county’s Democrat and Republican parties.
General oversight of the county elections department falls to the Dallas County Commissioners Court. Four of the five current commissioners are Democrats.
Both bodies are answerable to Dallas voters, who will expect them to hold Scarpello accountable for the quality of future elections.