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Missing ballots lead to policy change

A policy lapse that resulted in more than 1,800 ballots not being counted in the Nov. 8, 2016 election has led to the implementation of new policies and procedures within the Hays County Election Administration.

Jennifer Anderson, who took over the job of Elections Administrator on Jan. 1 of this year after former administrator Joyce Cowan’s retirement, said that even one vote left untallied is unacceptable.

“Everybody that comes to vote wants their vote to be counted and their voice to be heard,” said Anderson.

According to state law, because the election results were already canvassed by commissioners court, those results, without the 1,816 missing ballots, stand.

Anderson explained what this means is that the numbers that were up, went up a little further; there was no overturn of an election other than the Anthem MUD.

Anthem MUD is a municipal utility district west of Kyle. The Anthem MUD vote in the November election was held to whether or not to create the district, elect a board of directors and then to levee the tax for the MUD.

Anderson said that there were only two eligible voters in that election, and after the election results were made public reporting the vote “against,” both voters announced they had voted “for” in favor of the MUD’s bond.

This led to an investigation in which Anderson discovered one Mobile Ballot Box (MBB), which is a device that communicates with voting booths and records all votes to calculate a final tally in an election, was not recorded in the election. There are more than 40 MBBs used during the elections throughout Hays County.

“The missing MBB was back in our storage, a room where those who do tally and store our equipment, and it was just not anywhere secured – just laying on a shelf in a box,” said Anderson.

The only reported Anthem votes from the MBB recording was one vote against. There were no votes for, so the missing MBB contained those two votes against the Anthem MUD. Anderson said this single vote most likely came from human error.

Anderson’s motivation into starting the investigation came from not only concerns that she had heard throughout the county, but also because there were some unanswered questions about the way the reporting had come out after the election.

Fortunately for voters, this MBB was changed out on the second day of early voting, so it didn’t affect the whole voting period, only the first two days of early voting at the Hays County Government Center.

An election contest ultimately overturned the results in favor of the Anthem MUD.

The May elections will be Anderson’s first election working alone as Elections Administrator for Hays County, and she has started implementing policies and procedures to make sure a problem like this is avoided in the future to ensure citizens that their vote does indeed matter.

The first policy involves a log system that is put in place to list the locations of all the MBBs and their replacement equipment. Those items will be locked inside Anderson’s office.

The elections office will also continuously back up the E-slates on replacement equipment.

“If we replaced equipment here at the government center, if we had backed up the actual voting machine that night, we would have seen the difference that night,” said Anderson. 

Anderson said she will also cross-train to help improve accountability.

“I now have two people doing the programming and two people working on the equipment,” said Anderson. “Prior to this there was just one person doing those things. I’d like to see nobody singularly doing anything in this office. I think there should always be two sets of eyes, two minds and two signatures.”

After the problem came forth about the missing votes, some citizens of Hays County who are in favor of paper ballots have voiced their opinions against electronic polling.

However, Anderson said that the election office would have never known about this missing MBB if they didn’t have electronic equipment. She was able to go back months afterwards and figure out what happened; with paper they would have not been able to do this. 

“You’re going to have equipment failures at times,” said Anderson. “It’s about knowing how to track that equipment, keep it in the chain of custody and make sure it’s secure.”

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