Dallas County’s new elections administrator, Michael Scarpello, may have made a million-dollar mistake mismanaging the May municipal election in the city of Dallas.
The city is refusing to pay Scarpello’s elections office an additional $1.4 million to conduct a runoff election in June, after hearing from Scarpello during Wednesday’s Dallas City Council meeting about polling-place problems that kept an unknown number of voters from casting ballots on May 1.
Texas Scorecard reported last week on multiple late-opening polling locations in Dallas during the May election—Scarpello’s first since he took charge of Dallas County’s Elections Department last December.
On Wednesday, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson grilled Scarpello for specifics about what went wrong on Election Day.
“We’re talking about whether or not the taxpayers of Dallas should have any confidence that we should be spending more money with your organization to run elections for us,” Johnson told Scarpello.
The Elections Department had requested an additional $1,475,551 for the city’s share of all costs for the county to operate the June 5 runoff election. The original contract for the county to run the May 1 Dallas City Council election totaled $1,650,190.
After prodding from Johnson, Scarpello produced a list of at least nine Dallas vote centers that opened from one to four hours late on Election Day, most attributed to inadequately trained poll workers. He also said a system to show what polling locations were open wasn’t working and acknowledged his office failed to efficiently dispatch technicians to problem sites.
“Personnel is probably the biggest issue we had for this election,” Scarpello told council members, adding he’s found “multiple systematic issues” within the department that he plans to review and modify with “major overhauls” before the next big election in 2022.
Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn said the county’s services in this election didn’t meet the city’s expectations.
“I think it’s shocking to have heard about all the problems in Dallas,” Mendelsohn told Scarpello. “I’m looking for a lot more than just a review. I’m looking for an investigation to understand exactly how and why this happened.”
“We’re paying a lot of money for a level of quality that I’m not happy with,” she said.
“In a low-turnout election like these council races are, some of them being decided by literally a couple of dozen votes, you should be outraged at this,” Johnson said. “We’re paying for this. The residents of Dallas are paying for this.”
“I think Dallas County ought to comp it,” Johnson added:
They ought to just say, ‘Our bad. We’re sorry that we blew your election so badly in the first round.’ And I don’t support us paying any more money for what is just an egregious failure to do your job in this case.
Council voted 11 to 3 against paying the county more money for the June 5 runoff election.
The city secretary said she would work with Scarpello to try to cover the runoff cost with savings from Election Day costs, which she thought were overestimated in the original contract.
Dallas voters had hoped Scarpello would be an improvement over his predecessor 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.
Scarpello’s first effort in Dallas has cost the county the confidence of its biggest city and its voters, plus a million dollars.