Potter County Republicans step back push for paper ballots approach in 2022 primary

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Officials with the Potter County Republican Party announced Thursday that it will no longer be hosting a separate primary with hand-marked and counted ballots.

The Potter County Republican Party intended to host the upcoming March Primary with hand-marked and counted ballots for Republican voters on Election Day, an approach party officials announced earlier this month.

This comes after the Potter County Commissioners’ Court took no action on a resolution brought forward to the court by the organization during Monday’s meeting. According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the conversation surrounding the resolution, which made numerous requests including the elimination of voting centers, discouraged the use of electronic voting devices and asked for the County Clerk to be in charge of elections. The meeting lasted more than two hours.

During the meeting, Potter County Elections Administrator Melynn Huntley said during Monday’s meeting the county moved away from an all-paper system decades ago “for good reason.”

“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.

Potter County GOP Chairman Dan Rogers said in the release that after the court failed to take action on the measure, which would have withdrawn the county from the Voting Center Program, it does not allow the party to use the optical scanner from the county’s Election Administrator’s office “to count the votes and hand verify the hand-marked original ballots as had been done in years past.”

The “Voting Center Program” appeared to refer to the Countywide Polling Place Program, for which Potter County was approved in 2016 and Randall County in 2014. The program is used to establish countywide polling centers, with proposed plans for county election days reviewed and approved by the Secretary of State – though per each year, the Secretary of State may only choose six counties with a population of 100,000 or more and four counties of less than 100,000 for review, meaning that counties wishing to change their voting systems or polling locations may have to wait in line for years to be chosen for the approval program.

Further, approval by the Secretary of State in that program requires, “Exclusive use of traditional direct recording electronic (DRE) voting systems, or use of the Texas-specific definition of a DRE system that is explained in Advisory 2017-21 at all polling places on election day;” and the use of computerized voter registration verification. Because of these requirements, the proposed Potter County GOP plan could lead to the county nullifying its Secretary of State election approval.

Rogers said in the release that he believes that local elected officials and candidates “distrust the members of the community who would work the election and distrust original authenticated hand-marked ballots.” Rogers claims that members of the court, as well as candidates who prefer electronic voting, fear election workers “would either not count or would fraudulently rip up or discard” ballots during the process.

“Therefore, the only option left to us to use hand-marked ballots would require Republican voters to use two different voting methods, electronic for early voting and hand-marked ballots for election day, each with different polling locations,” the release said. “Given the aforementioned concerns, we no longer seek to hold a separate primary due to the inability to fulfill our purpose.”

After the resolution was not voted on by the court, Rogers told MyHighPlains.com that it would have been confusing for voters to host a separate primary, coming to the ultimate decision after speaking with the executive committee of the Potter County GOP.

If the court decided to withdraw the county from the program, it would have allowed an easier path for the Potter County Republicans to host its own primary. Rogers said the plan all along was for the party to use the election administrator’s scanning machine. But with the non-vote, election workers would have to count the votes by hand on the Republican side.

“If we got out of that voting center program, then we could have our primary,” he said. “We would not have had (to) manually count the votes that night. I didn’t want to put the risk and burden of doing that on our election workers after a 13-hour day at the polls and have to stay another 13 plus hours to count. And that depended on how many election workers showed up… If we would have gotten out of the voting center program, then we would have been free to use the scanner that we use for the absentee ballots and we would have our results by 9:00 p.m., and we could have hand-verified those votes later, which is what we used to do.”

At the end of the release, Rogers continued to stress his belief that an “electronic vote is merely evidence of a vote,” stating that a tangible paper ballot is more legitimate and self-authenticated.

“We will continue to further advocate for ideas and solutions voters can be confident in that require hand-marked ballots and are cost-effective, reliable, secure, and superior in preventing fraud,” the release said.

While the March Primary will run as it has been with the electronic machines, Rogers said the work for paper ballots continues.

“It kind of made me realize we have a real problem,” he said. “I’m going to work to get this done statewide, not just in the county. I was hoping Potter County would take the leadership role and show that this could be done and stand up to the state and let the state knkow that we’re going to run our elections the way we want to run them, as efficient as we can run them.”

During Monday’s meeting, Huntley said it is important for the election administrator’s office to remain neutral and non-partisan, defending the laws and standing up for voters.

“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,” Huntley said. “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.”

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

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