Some Buda voters may have seen clerical errors at polling site

When Buda Councilman Todd Ruge arrived at the Buda City Hall polling station Oct. 26, he was expecting to see some familiar names on the ballot. Instead he realized he had received the wrong ballot.

"I got to the very end, to Mary Stone's race, and there was nothing else," Ruge said. "So I turned around, and I go, 'Can I have some help?' They looked at my ticket and said, 'We have you as Precinct 221,' and I said, 'Well, I'm 224.'"

Ruge said he was able to cancel his ballot because he still had the white ticket that is issued at voting locations to log onto the electronic ballot.

"They reissued me a new white slip, and I was able to complete the ballot," Ruge said. "For me, the propositions and the city election are important, so I was looking for them. One of the thoughts I had was that some of the voters who may not be as in tune with the local election may have passed that up. But that's just speculation."

Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan said the issue arose because an election worker was administering the wrong ballot.

"Buda used to be one precinct," Cowan said. "When we redistricted, with the new senatorial lines and the congressional lines and Barton Springs redistricting, et cetera, the precinct divided Buda to where we had to move some Buda residents into another precinct."

Cowan said the only complaints her office received relating to the issue were for the Buda City Hall voting site Oct. 26. She estimated that the issue had affected as many as a dozen voters. Cowan said there are "about 4,500" registered voters in Buda.

Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Tenorio said this is the first time the city has experienced a problem like this.

"Forget that it's a city race," Tenorio said. "Just assume it was the regular general race."

Tenorio said she was concerned that voters who were receiving the wrong ballots would end up voting for officials who serve in other precincts.

"I still believe that it's basically only a handful [of voters affected], but when Buda's election is over, [the City of Buda] can make note and do what they feel, but I know that we will also do checks and balances because you can look at counts," Cowan said.

Cowan said a certain amount of voter responsibility comes into play in the situation. If voters are able to prove that they were unable to cast a ballot in the city election, they will be eligible to receive a city ballot.

"Why wouldn't you say something if it wasn't on your ballot before you left?" she said. "But I'll admit that someone working in elections accidentally gave the wrong access codes."

City Secretary Danny Batts said the city contracts with the county to provide the electronic voting terminals that were mandated by the federal government after the 2000 presidential election. Batts said the total amount of the city's contract will not be known until after the election, but he said it usually falls somewhere between $3,500 and $4,000.

Councilwoman Cathy Chilcote is up for re-election to her Place 4 seat and is being challenged by George Haehn. At the council meeting Oct. 30, Chilcote proposed the idea of getting a refund for the city's contract for voting services.

"To me it's not about the money," Chilcote said. "It's about an election that has gone screwy."