Williamson County facing several hurdles in effort to tally 2018 midterm elections

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Williamson County continues to count votes six days post-election after a series of hurdles leading up to and during Election Day delayed unofficial results.

The Williamson County Elections Department runs all county races but found itself having to overcome human errors and technical issues. On Oct. 3, the count reissued about 8,000 mail-in ballots, which initially did not include Court of Criminal Appeals candidate William Bryan Strange III, a Libertarian. County officials at the time cited an editorial error for the omission, and ballots were reissued and electronic voting machines were reprogrammed.

The ordeal cost the county a minimum of $15,000 in reprinting, postage and labor, said Chris Davis, Williamson County election administrator.

“It was a regrettable situation, but we wanted to make sure everyone in the county had the right ballot,” Davis said.

Davis said the county had never experienced such an error but will work to be more vigilant while proofreading ballots for future elections.

Malfunctioning machines

Then the county had issues with a mobile voting machine.

Davis said the mobile voting team spent Oct. 22—the first day of early voting—on the Southwestern University campus in Georgetown. At the second mobile voting location at the Clairmont Retirement Community in Austin held the following day, one of the four machines would not turn on, Davis said. The machine was pulled off the circuit and set aside until the elections staff was legally allowed to see the votes, he said.

However, as of Friday, Davis said his staff and the machine’s operator technicians were still working on retrieving 114 votes that are believed to be saved on the computer’s motherboard. While the team will continuously work on retrieving the votes, Davis said Friday he did not expect the results until Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.

Neither the county nor its vendor has ever experienced a technical issue to this extent, Davis said.

Slow election night

When Election Day finally arrived, Davis said the department found itself short on vote counters.

In the county, 16 members—eight Democrats and eight Republicans—are appointed to the voting ballot board by each party. Members are responsible to help count early voting and Election Day votes throughout the process and are chaired by a person of the winning party of the previous gubernatorial race, Davis said.

The board began counting early voting ballots on Oct. 27 and met again Oct. 31, Nov. 3 and on Election Day, Nov. 6, Davis said.

Davis said fewer board members showed up to count votes on election night than were expected, leading to a delay in results.

More than 200,000 ballots were cast in Williamson County in addition to 1,300 mail-in ballots, Davis said. Williamson County also had the highest voter turnout percentage in the state at 62.09 percent. Travis County followed at 61.33 percent.

A higher-than-expected turnout rate and lack of support in ballot counting led to results trickling in election night, Davis said. But a misread by the county’s online application led to further delays‚ resulting in the department periodically tweeting out PDF versions of the results instead.

However, the PDF versions did not give precinct-by-precinct results and only listed the percentage of votes each candidate received. Davis said updated results that give precinct-by-precinct information are expected to be ready Tuesday or Wednesday.

New voting machines

As part of the 2018 budget, the Williamson County Commissioners Court approved $4.5 million toward new voting machines. The decision was made in August before any technical issues, but Davis said the new voting machines would help in a similar situation involving malfunctioning technology.

The new machines would require voters to insert a blank ballot into a machine, vote electronically, print the ballot and take it to a secondary machine that would count votes. Davis said this would allow for a paper backup in case there were to be a recount or machine error.

Davis said bids by potential vendors will begin in early 2019, and the county should have the new machines by summer 2019 to allow time to train poll workers for future elections.

“There were hurdles we had to clear [in the midterm elections], but I think we did a good job and we’ll keep moving forward,” Davis said. “We’re always trying to be better than the last time.”

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Ali Linan
Ali Linan began covering Georgetown for Community Impact Newspaper in 2018. Her reporting focuses on education and Williamson County. Ali hails from El Paso and graduated from Syracuse University in 2017.
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