Tarrant County Commissioners, Election Board to discuss prenumbered ballots

dfwnewsa | April 1, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Tarrant County Commissioners, Election Board to discuss prenumbered ballots

Voting machines lined up at the Tarrant County Elections Administration building, 2700 Premier street. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)
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Tarrant County Commissioners and the County Election Board will hear a presentation on prenumbered ballots ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election. 

The Election Board could take action at the Tuesday meeting to purchase the prenumbered ballot stock. The Election Board is responsible for approving the purchase of election equipment and appointing members of the ballot board and election verification committee in certain elections. 

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The board is made up of Election Administrator Clint Ludwig, County Judge Tim O’Hare, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and Democrat and Republican party chairs Crystal Gayden and Bo French, respectively. 

Commissioner Manny Ramirez, a Republican, is not sure what the presentation by the election administrator will entail but expects to hear about the potential impacts of the change and Ludwig’s final recommendation. 

Commissioner Alisa Simmons, a Democrat, said she believes using prenumbered ballots is an unnecessary expense to the taxpayers, because thousands of dollars’ worth of printed, unused ballots will go to waste every election. 

“This is an attempt by election deniers to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” Simmons said in a statement. “What will result if this passes will be an expense to the taxpayer to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars — to do the same thing we are already doing efficiently and securely.” 

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In the end, the members of the County Election Board will have the final say on purchasing the prenumbered ballots. 

Prenumbering ballots has been touted as a way to make elections more secure by groups that deny the results of the 2020 presidential election, including those who voiced their concerns directly to Tarrant County’s election officials in May 2022, in a county-run forum intended to address election integrity concerns. 

Elections across the country, including in Tarrant County, underwent forensic audits. No evidence of widespread voter fraud that would have influenced the election results has been found. 

“My question is, how do we know which numbers are used for the ballot? How do we know there are not duplicate ballots?” a commenter asked at the May 2022 meeting. 

Rather than hand-marked paper ballots, Tarrant County’s election system uses blank paper fed into a voting machine. Voting machines then assign a serial number to the ballot in a process called dynamic numbering. 

Dynamic numbering is more secure than prenumbered ballots, election officials argue. It makes it harder to duplicate ballot numbers and switch out legitimate votes for ballots that favor a different candidate. 

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At the May forum, election security skeptics argued dynamic numbering presents a security risk because it makes it impossible to track ballots after they’ve been cast. Secret ballots are an advantage to the integrity of democracy, former Election Administrator Heider Garcia previously argued. If government officials can track who an individual citizen voted for, it could put them at risk of retaliation, he said. 

The printed number includes a sequence that identifies the machine it came from, allowing auditors to ensure only ballots that were printed by sanctioned machines in polling places are counted.

An audit of the 2020 general election, ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott, legitimized elections in Tarrant County. The audit found no evidence of widespread fraud. The small amount of voter fraud revealed would not have significantly affected the results of the 2020 election, auditors concluded. 

Ballot numbering is one of many concerns raised by Citizens for Election Integrity Texas, a group focused on casting doubt on the integrity of Tarrant County elections. The group has previously pushed to be allowed access to Tarrant County’s voting machines and has advocated for the county to use hand-marked and counted paper ballots. 

Shortly after taking office, O’Hare attended a presentation hosted by the group’s leaders, Fort Worth lawyers Dan Bates and Bill Fearer, outlining concerns with Tarrant County’s elections process. 

Garcia, Tarrant County’s previous election administrator resigned, citing a “​​difference in values” with O’Hare. Tarrant County also established an Election Integrity Task Force focused on investigating issues of election integrity. 

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Commissioner Ramirez emphasized that the Election Board will have the final say but said he is looking forward to hearing the presentation. 

“I think if there’s any mechanisms that we can take or any steps we can take to ensure that we’re on the cutting edge of maintaining incredibly secure elections, then we owe it to our taxpayers to look at those,” Ramirez said. “But in a nutshell, I think Tarrant County has a great reputation across the United States for administering very good elections.”

Tarrant County Commissioners will meet at 10 a.m. April 2. Commenters can sign up to speak or submit written comments until the meeting begins. The Election Board will meet at 2 p.m. or upon completion of the regularly scheduled Commissioners Court meeting.  

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or @BehrndtRachel. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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