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On Monday, Midland elections officials finally found 836 “missing” ballots from the November election after opening a “mystery box” that was discovered just last week. Hanging in the balance is a close Midland school bond election included on those ballots.

During a recount investigation last Thursday, election workers revealed they found a locked ballot box that officials could not account for. The investigation was sparked by an 820-ballot discrepancy discovered during a recount of the November election ballots. The recount indicated there were 820 more electronically recorded ballots than the number of paper ballot backups.

Midland County’s elections office determined during the recount investigation that the ballot discrepancy came from the main early voting location at the elections office, located at the Midland County Courthouse Annex. The county obtained a court order allowing elections officials to recount the number of paper ballot backups to find the discrepancy.

Frustrations increased when the margin of paper ballots unaccounted for grew by 20, leaving the new total at 840.

Election officials, and representatives of the Special Purpose Action Committees (SPACs) for and against the bond, gathered in the commissioners courtroom Monday after having obtained another court order allowing them to open the “mystery box.” Inside the box, they found 836 paper ballot backups from the November 2019 election that turned up missing during the recount.

Soon after the revelation, representatives of both SPACs told reporters they each intend to file petitions in court to contest the election, with the anti-bond SPAC “Better Bond for Midland” seeking to void the results.

“Today’s events show that the discrepancy was attributed to a break in the ballot chain of custody procedures by the Midland Elections Office,” said Christine Foreman, head of the pro-bond “We Choose Our Future” PAC.

Foreman went on to point out how the mystery box—which was different than the regular, blue ballot boxes—had a serial number on the seal of the box that did not match any chain-of-custody document that the elections office has.

Sara Gonzales, part of “Better Bond for Midland,” laid blame directly with Midland County Elections Administrator Deborah Land.

“[Land] failed to provide all of the ballots from the November 2019 election to the recount committee,” Gonzales said, adding that Land insisted multiple times that her office provided all of the ballots.

“We have said for week[s] that there were problems with the election,” Brandon Hodges, head of “Better Bond for Midland,” told Texas Scorecard after the latest ballot revelation.

“The Midland taxpayers have been proven correct. Our election contest is one that will restore trust as a community and make sure that we correctly run our elections from start to finish. There seems to continue to be political positioning from other parties which is just a continuation of a theme to access the $569 million in tax dollars at the MISD trough.”

While Hodges agreed that the elections office was largely responsible in the election, he elaborated that the recount committee wasn’t without fault, either. He stated, “It is impossible to make a statement such as: ‘The recount was done correctly.’”

Hodges alleged the recount committee had committed multiple violations of the Texas Election Code, including that hundreds of ballots lacked the required election judge signature or stamp, and unauthorized individuals were allowed inside the recount room.

One witness to the recount process also claims that ballot boxes were improperly opened outside the view of recount observers.

Attorneys for both sides are expected to file petitions challenging the election in district court within the next several days.

If the contested election results are voided by the court, MISD would have to propose another bond measure for a future election.