Around 1,800 Hays County ballots not tallied in November election

Early voting numbers are up in Hays County. (KXAN photo)
Early voting in Hays County. (KXAN photo)

HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — “Preventable human error” was behind 1,816 votes not tallied in Hays County during the November 2016 election, the elections administrator says.

Jennifer Anderson, who became administrator on Jan. 1, says her investigation into the election contest for the Anthem Municipal Utility District (MUD) revealed the lapse should have been prevented.

Anderson says, other than the Anthem MUD election, the outcomes of the Nov. 8 election in Hays County were not affected and would have been the same as they are currently.

The voting machines used in Hays County communicate with a central data storage device called a Mobile Ballot Box (MBB), which records all votes and calculates the final tally. Dozens of MBBs are used throughout Hays County, Anderson says, and one was overlooked.

It was taken offline and replaced at the Hays County Government Center Early Voting on Oct. 25, 2016. Protocol, which called for an offline piece of voting equipment to be quarantined and held for tallying, was not followed, according to Anderson . “It was set aside and was never tallied as part of the Nov. 8 election contest,” she said.

The MBB in question contained 1,816 votes, which were not included in the final tally for a number of Hays County offices and measures.

Anderson says the county began an internal investigation at the beginning of February and found the MBB shortly after in a cardboard box locked away in the elections office tally room. “We were looking for something that wasn’t there,” Anderson said.

KXAN’s Lauren Lanmon reported earlier this month that only two voters in the Anthem MUD district were registered and said their votes were marked inaccurately.

“We still have a vote that was cast supposedly against the bond measures and all of the court documents that I have retrieved claim that there were only two registered voters. Well if they found the two yay votes then where in the world did the nay vote come from?” said Hays County resident Matt Ocker.

Anderson says the third vote was also cast by mistake.

“It’s probably unavoidable when you have 157 ballot styles, somebody may get the wrong ballot and that’s exactly what happened in this case. Somebody got the wrong ballot, and in most elections that’s not going to matter one way or another, but when you have only two voters in an election that’s pretty obvious,” said Anderson.

Anderson says the outcome of the Anthem MUD election was corrected in an election contest in December 2016. The untallied MBB did contain two votes “for” the Anthem MUD bond propositions.

The administrator says she has already installed new policies and procedures to ensure that this does not happen in the future. She continued, “My hope is that by sharing this information it will not injure, but instill faith in the reputation of the Hays County election process.”

Some of those policies include a log that will track the location of each and every item. Anderson says she is now working on a way to make those 1,816 votes public so everyone can see the results that were not counted.

Hays County is looking into purchasing new voting equipment, Anderson says although some in the community have asked for paper ballots, that will not be an option.

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