A vote by Republican grassroots activists in Gillespie County to hand-count ballots during the next primary election prompted a change in the Central Texas county’s GOP leadership.
Tuesday night, Bruce Campbell was elected chairman of the Gillespie County Republican Party during a special meeting of the party’s executive committee, composed of locally elected precinct chairs.
Campbell, who was the party’s vice chairman, replaces Mo Saiidi.
Saiidi resigned after the executive committee passed a resolution last month to use hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots and paper poll lists in their March 2024 primary.
The resolution passed 7-6.
After the vote, Saiidi reportedly walked out of the meeting and later announced he was quitting.
“I felt this decision would weaken the party, alienate our supporters, and damage our old relationship with the County. Shortly afterwards, I decided that I could not serve the community with integrity by going along with an untested, questionable hand counting system instead of a proven fair present system that has served us so well,” Saiidi said in a guest column in the local paper on September 6. “Consequently, I resigned my post effective September 18.”
Saiidi said he believes the county’s current voting system is secure. It uses electronic poll books to check in voters and hand-marked paper ballots that are counted using an optical scanner.
He noted that a hand count can be done but “requires thoughtful and thorough planning to make it viable.”
The party will be responsible for securing polling locations and volunteers to staff them, providing training and security, printing ballots, and overseeing both the voting and hand-counting processes.
Hand count supporters say they are prepared for the challenge.
Gillespie County has 13 voting precincts and approximately 21,000 registered voters. About 6,000 participated in the 2020 GOP presidential primary, and 6,500 voted in the party’s 2022 primary.
The county never adopted countywide voting and used paper poll books until recently.
Under the election plan proposed by the party, Republican primary voters will continue to cast ballots at a single location during early voting and at precinct polling places on Election Day.
Hand-counting of ballots will be done in accordance with Chapter 65 of the Texas Election Code.
Precinct chair David Treibs told Texas Scorecard the party is awaiting more guidance from the Texas secretary of state’s office but is moving ahead with its election plans. Party members are already soliciting volunteers, sourcing ballot printers, and seeking advice from local officials who have experience hand-counting ballots.
“We are committed to doing a good job,” he said.
“I am excited to be part of the movement to return to hand-counted paper ballots and have volunteered to help with the count in my precinct,” said Fredericksburg resident Kathy Lux.
“We don’t claim there is fraud in Gillespie County and that isn’t the point,” said precinct chair Neill Northington. “Transparency in voting is the goal, and hand-counting the votes is the only way to achieve this.”
Northington said the intent is to test the method in a low-turnout election to determine the viability of hand-counting in other elections.
The Fredericksburg Tea Party, one of the oldest and largest grassroots organizations in the state, also supports the hand count and called Saiidi “out of touch” with regular citizens’ concerns and “disrespectful” to his own party and volunteers.
“FTP looks forward to working with the Gillespie County GOP to provide resources and volunteers to ensure that Gillespie County’s Republican primary election is transparent and accountable,” the group’s founder Angela Smith said.
The deadline for the party to finalize its primary election plan is December 11.