PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

June 26, 2014

Former candidate warns voters to be aware of possible discrepancies

PORT ARTHUR — A former Port Arthur City Council candidate wants to send a message to voters in hopes that some issues occurring in the May election do not carry over into Saturday’s runoff.

Mike Mason, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 1 Council seat against incumbent Raymond Scott Jr., said he discovered what he at first thought was an oddity shortly after the election.

Mason said early on after the May 10 election he began to hear reports from supporters who were questioning why people living in their households had received different ballots.

After an exhaustive investigation of voter documents, Mason said he and his wife were able to identify nine households that received different ballots either on election day, or during early voting.

“There could be more, but these were just the ones we were focused on,” Mason said.

If there had been more, the election’s outcome may have been different since Mason lost by just 16 votes, or Scott’s lead could have been greater.

Mason said he wanted to make it clear the reason he decided to come forth is not to cause trouble, or because he is angry over losing, but rather to inform voters to be more responsible when they get in the voting booth.

“The voter should be educated and aware and not be afraid to question the process,” Mason said. “If a voter sees something on the ballot that does not quite look right, then find somebody and ask them about it.”

Mason’s own voting experience was problematic, he said.

When it came time to vote, Mason said he noticed his ballot was in Spanish. Election workers had to void the ballot and recalibrate the voting machine at his request.

Mason and his wife also determined there were discrepancies in the list of voters sent to the county voter registrar’s office, and those listed on the combination form from the city.

Under the Texas Election Code, Mason said he could have challenged the election results by asking for a recount, or going to court to formerly contest the election.

“I elected not to pursue it, but want voters to be aware that they should be informed,” he said.

Mason is not the only candidate who suspects the last election had some problems.

Tiffany Hamilton, a candidate in Saturday’s runoff election for the District 2 City Council seat, said she has heard from supporters who tried to cast a vote for her during early voting this past week, but were turned away.

Those same voters, she said, were able to vote for her during the May election.

“They knew they had voted for me before, and had not moved, so were confused as to why they could not vote this time around,” Hamilton said.

Mason places the blame on human error, which is not an acceptable excuse, according to the state, but one that he felt could be rectified.

He said he believes Port Arthur’s system of voting is overly cumbersome, especially when dealing with split precincts.

Mason said he took his findings to the Sherri Bellard, Port Arthur’s city secretary and election administrator, to determine what had happened to cause the discrepancies, and has since been told the problems have been addressed.

In a statement issued by Bellard Thursday, she explained the city uses Jefferson County voting precincts for the election process. In 2011, City Council approved new council district lines which created eight split council precincts within the city.

During the May 10 election Bellard said her office received three formal complaints filed by voters who received the incorrect ballots in one or more of the eight council district split precincts.

A thorough investigation was made regarding the three complaints and an independent discussion took place with the Secretary of State, Bellard said.

“The city of Port Arthur explicitly followed all directives of the Secretary of State and handled the three formal complaints to their satisfaction,” she said.

Bellard said election officials as part of their training are instructed to advise each voter to double check the ballot before they cast their vote. If there is a question, the voter should notify an election official immediately.

If the voter has not finalized their vote by casting their ballot, the incorrect ballot can be canceled and the correct one issued, she said.

“The above mentioned formal complaints were brought to the election official’s attention, as well as the city secretary, after they cast their ballot. Therefore, according to the Texas Election Code, a voter is not allowed to cast a second ballot. A formal complaint must come from an actual voter,” Bellard said.

If there are any other formal complaints, Bellard’s office will be happy to address them with the Secretary of State, she said.

There are three council district split precincts in Saturday’s runoff election. Bellard said she has implemented procedures that sufficiently address the issues for the current election process.

“The City Secretary’s office takes every complaint seriously and has taken all necessary action to ensure the integrity of our elections,” Bellard said.

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: skooncePANews

 

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