Citizens wanted for election committee after voting snafu

The path toward fixing potential voting problems began after Hays County officials set the ground rules for a citizens’ committee tasked with identifying updated voting equipment.

The move came after Hays County officials held a public meeting March 30 to address voting issues that led to nearly 1,800 votes not being counted during the Nov. 8, 2016 election.

According to county officials, the issue was a result of a policy lapse after a mobile ballot box (MBB), which is a device that communicates with voting booths and records votes to calculate a final tally in an election, was not counted at an early voting site.

As a result, the outcome of only one election, the creation of the Anthem Municipal Utility District (MUD) was affected by the snafu. Two votes in favor of the creation of the MUD were within the 1,800-plus vote that was not counted.

However, 14 people from San Marcos, Buda, Kyle and Wimberley expressed concerns during public comment March 30 over the Anthem election result and their desire for an official investigation report.

Ashley Whittenberger was frustrated by the lack of communication from the new elections administrator.

Whittenberger also said she supported the creation of a citizen advisory committee, but would like to see the membership expanded to 10 to 20 citizens instead of only 10 or 11.

San Marcos resident Sam Brannon said he would like to see voting machines with a back up paper ballot system that could be verified, instead of just a digital system.

San Marcos resident Lisa Marie Coppoletta said she would “never vote again,” when addressing Cobb and the commission. She added there is a “fine line between election fraud and human error.”

Brannon said the heart of the contention stems from the results of the Anthem election in Nov. 2016 being overturned due to a missing mobile/digital ballot box containing the real voting results.

“We want a paper trail and we want a report from the investigation,” Brannon said.

After public comment Cobb introduced Hays County’s new elections administrator Jennifer Anderson to introduce the three agenda items for the meeting.

Jennifer Anderson, Hays County Elections Administrator, called for a voting machine upgrade, which commission members and Cobb agreed was needed.

Hays County voting machines were purchased in 2005.

Anderson said if the county’s voting machines were updated, the voting system would have to be updated as well to accommodate countywide voting centers.

County officials also crafted a citizen advisory committee (CAC) to advise the elections commission on the new voting equipment.

Anderson will chair the new advisory committee and will be joined by Hays County IT Director Jeff McGill. John Adams and Russell Hayter, who are the respective Hays County Democratic and Republican chairpersons, will also be a part of the new committee. Two non-voting members of the committee will be Virginia Flores, chief voter registration/election clerk and Tomas Cardosac the Elections Data Programmer.

Laureen Chernow, Hays County public information officer, said in a press release the election commission would select seven citizens, who will view demonstrations from voting equipment vendors.
The committee will then vote on a recommendation to the commission about which equipment could suit the needs of county voters.

“We need to restore a modicum of trust in the voting system,” Cobb said at the Mar. 30 meeting.

The voting machine mistake occured while former election administrator Joyce Cowan held the office. She retired at the end of 2016.

Want to be part of Hays County History?

Citizens interested in participating in the advisory committee should send an email with the reasons individuals want to serve on the committee, as well as their applicable background, to VoteEquipment@co.hays.tx.us. Deadline to send emails is noon on April 17. Hays County officials will  nominate members to the CAC April 20.

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