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2 ballots in 1 city: Information glitch blamed for PA city races not included on county ballots

Residents in 30 of Port Arthur’s 40 precincts who vote on Nov. 3 will have to fill out one ballot on Jefferson County races and propositions and go to another precinct to take part in the city election.

The problem, county officials say, stems from outdated and incorrect information regarding voters’ addresses in each precinct and city council district the City of Port Arthur submitted to Jefferson County voter registrar Allison Nathan Getz.

Port Arthur district boundaries were updated in October 2011, and county officials say the burden of voters filing two ballots in one city during the same election period has been an ongoing problem since.

Jefferson County Clerk Carolyn Guidry said the city did not meet a specific dateline to provide correct voter information so that the city election could be included on the county ballot.

“They waited so late,” Guidry said. “This is 10 years later. This should have been done after redistricting. They waited so late, the registrar had no time to create the database.”

Guidry pointed to a clause in the Jefferson County election services contract with Port Arthur that reads:

“Prior to September 1, 2020, each Political Subdivision is responsible for validating with the Voter Registrar that the boundaries for their voting precincts are correct and supplying the Contracting Officer with a map of such boundaries.”

The contract specifies it was last updated Aug. 3, 2020.

“The part I play is that I provide the database to the clerk to use for elections,” Getz said. “I get my information from the cities. The city of Port Arthur sends me information for the voters as far as where they live. The information I got from the city of Port Arthur was incorrect.”

The computer system Getz uses to update voter information rejected the info the city provided, she said.

The city elections do not include the Port Arthur Independent School District and Drainage District 7 board elections, which are included on the county ballot, along with federal and state races related to districts impacting Jefferson County.

“Their information was correct, and we were able to pass this onto the county clerk,” Getz said of PAISD and DD7. “Why would I do this for the other entities and not the city of Port Arthur? I want the taxpayers to know we’re doing all we can, but we can’t create info.”

Disagreement

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie disagrees, stating county officials could have further assisted the city in the matter.

Bartie took issue with a law under the Texas Election Code that requires political subdivisions to use the county’s designated polling places in each county election precinct.

“Local political subdivisions must work with the county election officer to determine whether modifications to the ballot are needed in light of this requirement,” the law states, according to an election advisory from state elections director Keith Ingram on July 21.

“If a county participates in the Countywide Polling Place Program, the local political subdivision must have its ballots available at every polling place in the county on election day, including those locations outside the political subdivision’s territory,” the advisory reads.

It also states local political subdivision that “has the equipment and resources to administer an election independent of the county while still using county election precincts” may run its own election if it can comply with legal requirements associated with the Nov. 3 election date.

“Had we had individuals who were amendable to assist us in this situation, it could have been ironed out,” Bartie said. “Their claim is the city secretary had not done what they needed to do. Me, myself and the council can deal with the situation.”

Getz denies the accusation.

“We want to help,” she said. “We want it to work for everyone else. It has my name on it, and it has to be right.”

Said Guidry: “My name is tied to it, so it needs to be right, fair and ethical for all voters. They’ve had 10 years to do it.”

Response

Asked if the city plans legal action against the county, Bartie answered: “At this point, we hope not. Our city attorney has gotten involved. The law states since we’re going to have our own election, we have got to be visible and have voting machines and ballots in every voting precinct in the county on Election Day because the county clerks are in charge of the election. That is impossible for us to do, plus we can’t get that number of machines.”

Bartie argues hiring campaign workers has been difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic and said the city was unsuccessful in obtaining a waiver from Gov. Greg Abbott to have the city entries available despite the lack of poll workers.

Instead, only 10 polling locations in Port Arthur will offer both city and county ballots.

For those who qualify for mail-in voting, the city of Port Arthur will send one ballot and Jefferson County will send another. Both are to be returned separately.

“It is impossible to fulfill the law,” Bartie said. “Our attorneys are studying what would keep us in the confines of the law.”

Bartie projects the conduct of the city election to cost Port Arthur taxpayers more than $200,000.

The second-year mayor added City Secretary Sherri Bellard “will correct whatever is necessary” and vowed the city would not have this problem again, but he also called out past city leadership for allowing the balloting issue to persist.

“We shouldn’t have had [the problem], but because how business has been handled in previous administrations, this is how we got,” Bartie said.

To vote on the Port Arthur city and Jefferson County ballots …

In person

  • Early voting in Port Arthur will be conducted at the Port Arthur Sub-Courthouse, 525 Lakeshore Drive, and Port Arthur Public Library, 4615 Ninth Ave. Voting times are:
  • Oct. 13-16 and 19-24: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Oct. 25: Noon-5 p.m.
  • Oct. 26-30: 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • The following polling locations within Port Arthur will be open on Election Day, Nov. 3:
  • DeQueen Elementary, 740 DeQueen Blvd.
  • Zion Hill Baptist Church, 5848 Roosevelt Ave.
  • Port Arthur Sub-Courthouse, 525 Lakeshore Dr.
  • Port Acres Elementary, 6301 Pat Ave.
  • O.W. Collins Retirement Center, 4440 Gulfway Dr.
  • Port Arthur Public Library, 4615 Ninth Ave.
  • R.L. Gabby Eldridge Center, 5262 S. Gulfway Dr.
  • Travis Elementary, 1115 Lakeview Ave.
  • Willie Ryman Center, 3248 39th St.
  • Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church, 801 Ninth Ave.

By mail

  • To submit a request for a mail ballot application, contact the city secretary’s office at 409-983-8115. The deadline for returning a mail ballot application in person is Oct. 16 at 5 p.m. The deadline for returning a mail ballot application by mail is Oct. 23.
  • To vote by mail in Texas, a resident must be 65 or older, be sick or disabled, be out of the county on Election Day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance, or be confined in jail but otherwise eligible.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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