‘We cannot exist like this in a primary election': Travis County clerk says voter behavior, state law need to change ahead of 2020

Dana DeBeauvoir at a press conference.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir and deputy clerk Ronald Morgan, met with reporters Nov. 6 to explain the issues that left the Nov. 5 elections undecided until 3:40 a.m. the following morning. Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir and deputy clerk Ronald Morgan, met with reporters Nov. 6 to explain the issues that left the Nov. 5 elections undecided until 3:40 a.m. the following morning. Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper

According to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, filing substantially complete election results by 10 p.m. election night has been a source of pride; however, the final results of this year’s Nov. 5 election were not filed until 3:40 a.m. the following morning.

DeBeauvoir said Wednesday it was because her team of roughly eight Travis County Clerk employees had to manually re-scan more than 12,700 ballots that didn’t arrive to the clerk’s office until 11:17 p.m. The process lasted for more than four hours and took her team well into the wee hours of the morning.

The longtime county clerk, who has served in her post for decades, blamed a perfect storm of conditions that included voter behavior—17,200 people showed up to vote after 5 p.m. on Election Day—the problem of the “fleeing voter,” the county’s new ballot machines and an old state law she said needs to catch up to new technology. She warned of grave circumstances if the issues are not addressed by the time the 2020 elections roll around.

“We cannot exist like this in a primary election,” DeBeauvoir told reporters Wednesday.

County officials said “fleeing voters” occur in every election. A fleeing voter is someone who checks in at the polling station but leaves before they are finished voting. DeBeauvoir used the example of a mother with a crying child, or, more often, someone who thinks they’re finished voting and leaves the polling station before they finalize their vote.

The county’s brand-new voting machines are no longer all digital but create a paper trail, which county officials said adds an extra layer of election security. The machines require voters to first log their votes on a computer screen; the machine then prints out a paper ballot with their votes, which voters then bring to a separate machine that double checks the votes and places the paper ballot into a ballot box. DeBeauvoir said she thinks some voters skipped this last step and took their ballots home with them by accident.

If the number of people who checked in at the polling station exceeds the number of ballots cast by four or more, state law requires election officials to open the ballot box and manually re-scan each ballot that was cast that day at the polling station before entering the final results. Last year, voting in Travis County was all digital—there was nothing to manually scan—so the county was not required to take this extra step.

County officials said they had to manually re-scan the ballots from 15 election day polling stations, including the county’s three busiest polling stations—Ben Hur Shrine Temple off West Anderson Lane, the Randall’s on Research Boulevard and the Randall’s on Brodie Lane. The more than 12,700 ballots they had to re-scan accounted for roughly 17% of the total Election Day ballots cast.

DeBeauvoir said the county needed to work with state officials to amend this requirement. However, she was most adamant about voters changing their behavior. She said 17,200 people showed up to vote after 5 p.m.. and continued to vote until 9:30 p.m..

“Voter behavior that waits and procrastinates and results in 20% of all Election Day voters voting all in the last two hours is not sustainable at a human scale” DeBeauvoir said. “We don’t have control of the lines—voters have control of the lines. We apparently have no good way to manage that for them.

“We need to get these improvements in place before the larger turnout election. This will be far too heavy a burden for voters, for [the media] and for us to carry if we don’t try to educate everybody about these circumstances for the future.”
By Christopher Neely

Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


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