Potter County officials discuss hand-marked, counted election ballots during commissioners meeting

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – During Monday’s meeting of the Potter County Commissioners’ Court, officials from the court, along with the multitude of community members in attendance, spoke for more than two hours regarding a resolution presented to the court about the way the county hosts its elections. 

During the meeting, Dan Rogers, the chairman of the Potter County Republican Party, presented a resolution to the court, which asked for the elimination of voting centers, discouraged the use of electronic voting devices and asked for the County Clerk to be in charge of elections. 

This comes after the Potter County Republican Party announced earlier this month that it is changing the way it hosts primary elections. According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the party will have the individuals who vote in the Republican primary on Election Day vote by hand-marked and counted ballots. 

On Election Day, individuals will have to vote in their precinct of residence on hand-marked paper ballots. Officials previously stated that early voting, as well as absentee voting, will not be impacted for individuals participating in the Democratic or Republican primaries. 

“We believe voting should be in our precincts, on paper, hand-marked, hand-counted using manual poll books so there is no question as to whether a person’s vote was properly counted,” the resolution read. “…the Potter County Republican Party of Texas hereby requests the Potter County Commissioners’ Court to please listen to the demands of our voters and go back to hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots and use manual poll books and vote in our precincts. Further, we ask that you withdraw from the Texas Secretary of State’s Voting Center program and its required us (sic) of Electronic Poll Books immediately; saving the taxpayers of Potter County Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars. We also ask that you make this effective for all elections moving forward from this date. We also ask that the Election Administrators (sic) office be placed under the purview of the County Clerk, a County-Wide elected official who is accountable to the voters.” 

In response to the resolution, Melynn Huntley, the county’s elections administrator, said the elections office has not received complaints about the electronic voting devices in years, after beginning the use of the devices in 2006. She also stated that the voting equipment is not connected to the internet, not allowing anyone, including the vendor or county officials, to get into the system to see how a particular individual voted. 

“Our office must be neutral and non-partisan. By design, we defend the laws and stand up for voters. The job of our office is to run elections in such a way as to not ‘get in the way’ of voters and to make sure that they understand the outcome of elections is ultimately and always in their hands, even if groups and individuals do not like the results,” Huntley said in a statement given to the court during Monday’s meeting, later provided to MyHighPlains.com. “…Elections depend on people. They have always and will always be dependent on the competency, integrity and efficacy of those who step up to work in the polling sites, election offices and state government. It is true in today’s world, that we must be diligent to protect the ballot from bad actors and those whose intent it is to disrupt an election and undermine the voters’ confidence in the outcome. We moved away from an all-paper system several decades ago for good reason.” 

While no action was taken on this resolution, multiple individuals participated in the robust discussion, including court members, a representative from the city of Amarillo as well as other public figures. 

Gail Kimbell, a Potter County resident, said the big concern that she has about voting is that she does not know anyone when she enters the voting center. She believes that when individuals voted by precinct, she knew some of the individuals working at the locations. 

Kimbell stressed that having individuals she knew working at the voting locations, neighbors who live in the same precinct as her, “makes a difference.” 

Stephanie Coggins, the city of Amarillo’s city secretary and elections administrator, also spoke during Monday’s meeting, talking about the city’s experience with Potter County during elections. 

“We are very satisfied with the current system,” she said. “In fact, in May of this year, as you recall, we had that system tested because we had a candidate request a recount in the Mayoral race. That was a timely, costly, process but from that, what we found from Potter County was 100% accuracy in those results… We have a very high level of confidence in the current system.” 

Because the court did not take any action on the measure, Rogers said the county’s Republican Party will be forced to hand-count the ballots from the primary, resulting in approximately 1,000 man-hours. 

Rogers said the plan is to continue to go forward with the hand-ballot approach to the upcoming election, claiming that there is less potential for fraud. 

“For me, it’s hard to beat paper. You can’t hack paper,” he said. “Whether our machines have been hacked, I’ve never made that accusation. But we know that they could be because anything can be. But I know that paper cannot be.” 

Huntley said she was not surprised that the court did not take action on the resolution, stating that it was a “big ask.” She stressed that Monday’s discussion was not personal, just surrounding systems, processes and procedures. 

With early voting and absentee voting being the same, Huntley sees March’s primary as a good test.

“In this upcoming election, it’s pretty well set. What’s going to happen is that the Republicans are going to be running their own election. There will be a few things that voters are going to see that’s going to be slightly different this time,” she said. “This will be a good test as to what would happen. This is kind of a ‘what if’ situation. That’s how I see it… This will be a good test for hand-marked paper and what it will mean and if there are those who really feel strongly about this. It will be an opportunity for it to have a real-time test.” 

Rogers’ hope is for Potter County officials to move forward with what voters in the county want out of an election process. 

“I think the voters and the county commissioners need to come together and we need to know what the voters want,” he said. “Do they want to go back to a hand-marked ballot that can be optically scanned and we can manually check that count, which is inexpensive, and go back to the precinct voting? Or, do they want centralized voting with all the new technology and machines? A lot of people are concerned about that. We need to find out what the voters (want) and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to find out what everybody thinks.” 

During the meeting, the Potter County Commissioners’ Court approved the appointment of Election Judges and established the hours of operation for Early Voting polling places for the upcoming primary election in March. 

According to documents referenced during Monday’s meeting, early voting will last from Feb. 14 through Feb. 25. Potter County’s early voting locations for March’s primary are the following: 

  • Santa Fe Building, 900 S. Polk;
  • Casey Carpet One, 3500 I-40 West Frontage Rd.; 
  • United Amigos, 3300 E I-40; 
  • Hillside Christian Church NW, 600 Tascosa Rd.; 
  • Cornerstone Outreach, 1111 N. Buchanan. 

For more information about the upcoming primary election in Potter County, visit the county’s election website.

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