MIDLAND, Texas — The ballot debacle continues in Midland. A lone ballot found in the voting machine equipment is now adding more confusion to the matter.
Midland County Election Administrator Deborah Land stated in a news release Tuesday that a stray ballot was found as election officials were rechecking each voting machine. Land, along with county attorney Russell Malm, a representative with Midland ISD, We Choose Our Future PAC and Better Bond for Midland PAC were present as each machine was opened.
Land says the ballot was immediately in half, placed into an envelope, initialed by everyone present and then sealed and placed into a lock box. No one saw the ballot results, according to Land and it was not included in the election recount – only the results of election night.
This comes ten days after the county first figured out there was a discrepancy – over 800 ballots unaccounted for from election night to the recount.
“It’s our responsibility to fix it. We signed up for this and we’re not going to shy away from it,” Malm said. “We’re going to get it figured out and fixed.”
The county is still moving forward with its investigation – still no answers to what is behind the discrepancy.
Midland County Attorney Malm walked NewsWest 9 through each step the county has taken so far under the direction of the Texas Secretary of State.
“The state has outlined different steps for us to take in sequential order to give us an idea about whether the error came from the machines or human,” Malm said.
They started by comparing the number of every person who checked in at voting centers to the voting totals reported by each voting center. Today, they started the process of looking at each tally sheet from the recount and compare those with the data the county collected from the voting centers. County Attorney Malm says there were several tubs full of those sheets the election office must go through.
Based off the data collected and compared, Malm says the county will look to the Secretary of State on what the next appropriate step will be. Also revealed today: a stop-back the county could rely on, digital copies of every ballot filed.
Attorney Malm says every voting machine took a digital copy of every ballot that was entered. It would take a court order to obtain access to those copies, but it’s an option for the county if they feel those copies are needed to get to the bottom of the ballot discrepancy.
“Those copies gives us a sense that ultimately if everything fails, we can go back and find ballots if there were actually any physical ballots missing," he said.
Malm says the county will likely go before a district judge to court order some sort of the process.
"What we seek from a court will depend on what we find,” he said.
Many viewers have asked the question, why not call for a re-vote? That is a possibility – it would have to come from the ruling of a district judge. At this point, Malm feels it’s still too premature to do that.
In order for anyone to contest an election, they must lay out specific evidence to support their contest and a district judge will rule one way or the other. An election contest comes with a fee and oftentimes, requires hiring an attorney.
State law shows that anyone wishing to contest an election has 30 days from a canvass to file. The Midland city council races were canvassed on Nov. 18th and the Midland ISD on Nov. 26th.
UPDATE: In the process of opening the machines used in the voting process, the Midland County Elections Office has found a ballot in the bottom bin of one of the machines.
The ballot had been properly and legally tabulated by the machine, the office said, but since the ballot was missing until Monday afternoon, it was not available for the recount committee to include.
According to the elections office, the ballot was folded and placed in an envelope which was then sealed with a tamper-evident seal and all people present signed or initialed the seal.
The envelope was then placed in a metal ballot box and locked with keyed locks. All representatives made notes on the seal and the lock numbers.
Deborah Land also said the results of the ballot were not seen by anyone, only the ballot number was.
The following is an update from the Midland County Elections Office:
A telephone conference was held on November 25, 2019 between Keith Ingram and Christina Adkins of the Legal Department of the Texas Office of Secretary of State, and including Terry Johnson, County Judge, Russell Malm, County Attorney, and Election Administration Deborah Land.
Land says they were given steps to go through to compare voter check-ins with totals tapes from each vote center, both early voting and election day. She says they are completing that task at this time.
The next step is to obtain copies of ALL Tally Sheets from the Recount from MISD. Land says they hope to receive those copies once a proper representative from each side of the bond issue can witness the copying. Officials are hopeful that will occur today.
Land says they are also hoping that those representatives would be available today to come to the Elections Office to witness the opening of the DS200s that were located at each vote center to see that they are empty of ballots. These are the pieces of equipment where the voters placed their voted ballots before leaving the vote center.
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