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Blunder at polls casts doubt on school bond  (TX)

T.J. Aulds    The Galveston County Daily News   30 October 2008

More than 100 voters in Santa Fe may have voted on the wrong ballot during the initial days of early voting. The mistake could call into question the validity of the outcome of the local school district’s $65 million bond proposals.

Galveston County’s director of elections confirmed the blunder where Precinct 277 voters were given a ballot that did not include the bond issues. That precinct is among a handful in the county that have more than one ballot because portions of 277 are not located in the Santa Fe ISD boundaries.

Election director Douglas Godinich said during the first day of early voting on Oct. 20 and for half the day of Oct. 21, poll workers at the West County building in Santa Fe were “not diligent enough” when voters from Precinct 277 came to vote and didn’t realize that some voters were to have received ballot 277-S170, which includes the Santa Fe school bond proposals.

The three bond proposals would provide for $65 million in improvements at all school campuses, constructing a new agriculture barn and building an auditorium at the high school.

It is uncertain, Godinich said, how many voters were given codes for ballot 277, which does not have the school bond proposals as an option.

“There was some confusion and then we started getting calls from people who said they didn’t get to vote on the school bonds,” Godinich said.

The elections office identified 115 instances in which voters from Precinct 277 could have cast votes on the wrong ballot. There are 15,000 registered voters in that precinct who are eligible to vote in the school district, Godinich said.

He said by the afternoon of Oct. 21, the mistake was caught and election workers were told to be more diligent.

With the use of electronic voting equipment, voters are given a pass code that allows them pull up the ballot specific to their voting precinct on any of electronic voting machines at any of the county’s 14 early voting locations.

Laura Gray was among the voters who is certain she was given the code for the wrong ballot. She and her husband went to vote at the West County building at about 11 a.m. on Oct. 21.

She said she didn’t realize the school bond proposals were not an option on her ballot until she read a story about the bond issues in Wednesday’s edition of The Daily News.

“I’m mad as heck that it wasn’t on my ballot,” said Gray, who suggested she would have likely voted for the school bond proposals.

Her husband too said his ballot did not include the school bonds, although he would not say how he would have voted.

The Grays said they are conscientious voters and make it a point to cast their ballots in every election. So, the fact there was a screw-up with their ballots didn’t sit too well with either one.

Laura Gray called county election officials to complain but didn’t get an answer to her most basic question: Will she be allowed to have her voice heard on the school bond election?

That depends. The decision will rest with the Santa Fe school board after the election is over.

Should the results of the election be close — 115 votes or fewer — the school board could call for a new election. That likely would not take place until May of 2009.

If the margin of victory or defeat is more than the disputed 115 votes, the school board could let the results stand.

Godinich said he is certain the problem was isolated and that no other polling locations experienced the same mistake. Still, the school district requested a list of the names of the 115 voters and Godinich sent word to workers at all polling locations to be certain they are giving voters the proper ballot codes.

Santa Fe school board president John Rothermel said Superintendent Leigh Wall informed school board members of the mistake.

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