Two polling mistakes on the first day of early voting for Tyler city-school elections may leave one District 2 city council candidate unable to vote for herself and temporarily excluded another candidate’s vote.
Candidate Sarah Coats, one of three candidates vying for the District 2 seat held by Councilman Donald Sanders, said she has lingering questions about election procedures after a poll worker entered an incorrect voter precinct number when she cast a ballot in her race April 30, the first day of early voting ahead of the Saturday elections.
“When the clerk inserted the key and entered the precinct, only the TJC ballot came up,” she said. “I voted thinking the council ballot would come up next. When it didn’t, I called for the election clerk immediately. I never left the election booth. They told me I was not in the precinct to vote in that election.”
Ms. Coats said she informed the polling administrators that she was a candidate and was voting in the correct precinct and district.
Secretary of State spokesman Rich Parsons said voters are allowed only one vote and that the paper ballot likely will not count. During a late afternoon phone call Tuesday, Parsons said it was his understanding that once cast, an incorrect ballot can be voided as long as the person did not leave the voting machine.
However, Smith County Election Administrator Karen Nelson said once a vote is cast it cannot be voided. Secretary of State election attorneys could not be contacted Tuesday evening to clarify the proper election procedure.
Ms. Coats said she is concerned the election office’s response will not mitigate other similar problems for other voters.
Ms. Coats said the program should include an extra prompt, asking poll administrators to recheck the precinct to ensure correctness before a vote is cast.
“I want accountability,” she said. “It could have been resolved to my specifications with little effort and little expense, but they opted to not do it that way.”
Mrs. Nelson said human error does happen and was the case with Ms. Coats’ ballot. She said the election clerk pressed “Precinct 34” instead of “Precinct 35,” on the voting machine touch screen, which lists dozens of precincts in rows.
The administrator said there is no programming that could protect from human error whether the error is by a voter voting for the wrong candidate and realizing it after the ballot is cast, or an election judge pressing the wrong precinct.
Both show what actions the voter has taken and gives them the opportunity to go “back” or cancel the vote if they feel there is a mistake.
“It’s the election clerk’s job to make sure everyone gets the correct ballot and that everyone’s vote is counted correctly. There was a mistake in Ms. Coats’ case and we fixed it the only way we could,” Mrs. Nelson said. “Human error is a possibility in any election but we feel they are very isolated incidents.”
Mrs. Nelson said it is the voter’s responsibility to know what is on the ballot and to ask questions before casting ballots if there are any doubts.
“You have the right to ask questions about the ballots,” she said. “If you think there is a mistake, ask someone before you vote.”
Parsons said it is the responsibility of poll workers to provide the correct ballots but added that voters are “just as responsible” for knowing the ballots. He said anyone who feels the election procedure was incorrect or illegal can file a complaint with the state.
The Rev. Charles Burns showed up at the Tyler Junior College voting location around 8:15 a.m. April 30.
“At first, when I went to vote there was a slight problem,” he said. “At that time, they didn’t have it (race) on … they couldn’t fix it right then.”
Burns is registered in voting Precinct 11 but the correct ballot style was not available on the electronic voting machine. There are two ballot styles for the city and school elections. One features city council and the TJC bond. One features the TJC bond only.
Precinct 11 ballots did not feature Burns’ name on the machine.
Burns said he paid a visit to the central election office to find out what happened and make sure it didn’t happen again.
Ms. Nelson said Burns was the first voter to cast a ballot in Precinct 11 and brought the programming error to the office’s attention.
She said 20 voters cast ballots in Precinct 11 that day but were given the correct ballot style. The election administrator said also she is not aware of any other problems with Precinct 11 voters being given incorrect ballot styles.
“They did tell me it was taken care of,” Burns said. “I don’t have any worries about it. I’m looking forward to winning.”
Mrs. Nelson said there are six voting precincts in District 2 and the other five voting precincts have been confirmed as correct.
Candidate Darryl Bowdre said he also cast a ballot on the first day of early voting, but did not encounter any specific difficulties.
“I did hear from folks who had some problems,” he said. “It (early voting) is usually at the (DC Brown) Heritage, but it wasn’t this year. I did hear there was some confusion” over where to go for early voting.
Bowdre said the county should have better advertised the polling locations as well as the fact there are two elections set this month rather than one.
Primary elections are set for May 29.
He said additional training may not be the best option to reduce mistakes at the polling locations because many polling officials are uncomfortable with technology.
Mrs. Nelson said election judges have been trained as to the importance of selecting the correct precinct and directing voters correctly. The election officials also will post reminders for voters to review their ballots before finalizing their vote.
Ms. Coats said she accepts some culpability but that the two errors and the county’s response are unacceptable. She said she is “tech savvy” and did not catch the error and is concerned about other voters. She said she will consider filing a complaint based on the results of the election.