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Lost ballots in Hays County drive calls for change

Hays County elections administrator Jennifer Anderson would like to move on from the Nov. 8 error in which more than 1,800 votes were not tallied, but some county residents still have concerns.

Though that issue was not on the agenda for an elections commission meeting Thursday morning, at least half a dozen people came to speak about it. The elections commission rarely convenes, but Anderson called Thursday’s meeting to discuss possible upgrades to voting equipment and changes to polling place locations.

In February, officials announced that the ballots had not been counted after a data storage device — similar to a flash drive — was misplaced. Officials said only one election would have turned out differently: a series of propositions for the newly created Anthem municipal utility district.

RELATED: Why 1,816 ballots in Hays County went uncounted last November

A Hays County judge had already overturned the results of that election in December, after the only two eligible voters in that barely populated district said the election results didn’t reflect how they voted.

County Judge Bert Cobb reached out to the Texas secretary of state about a month ago for an audit of the county’s election system but has not yet heard back.

The speakers at Thursday’s meeting had different next steps in mind: Some wanted a town hall-style meeting on the issue, others want a switch to paper ballots, and still others want an independent investigation, according to an audio recording of the meeting posted on local activist Lisa Marie Coppoletta’s blog.

Several criticized the county for what they called a lack of transparency.

Coppoletta, who has run for San Marcos City Council several times, told the commission that she will never vote again.

“I have no confidence now in the election system,” said Coppoletta, who wants the district attorney’s office or another authority to investigate. “I’m wondering what the bright line between election fraud and human error is, and that’s the law.”

OTHER PROBLEMS: Hundreds of mail-in ballots bounce back to voters

Another speaker, Matt Ocker, who has appeared before the Hays County Commissioners Court several times and has been calling for a return to paper ballots, requested a separate meeting during which he could ask questions of elections officials.

“I don’t intend to have a trial,” Ocker said. “I have questions regarding technical aspects of the voting process, but they’re ill-suited for a limited three-minute comment section where clarification and explanation are not possible.”

Despite the comments about the mishandled ballots in November and demands for further investigation, Anderson said she’s not interested in dwelling on the past. Anderson, who took office in January after longtime elections administrator Joyce Cowan retired, said she is working on writing new procedures.

As for paper ballots? Anderson and other county officials have long rejected the idea, saying electronic systems allow for redundancy in storage of voting data. Human errors, they add, can occur regardless of system.

“I realize that some people are going to have a hard time letting go of what happened in November and moving forward, but I can’t go back to that time,” Anderson said. “I can only move forward with a better policy that will minimize the risk of that happening again, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Instead, Anderson said she is taking steps toward buying new voting equipment. The current system is more than 10 years old and maintenance agreements have expired, she said.

She also wants to work toward creating countywide polling places instead of precinct-specific ones. That move will require state approval through a lengthy application process. Several speakers at Thursday’s meeting voiced support for that effort.

An 11-member committee will look into several state-certified vendors before making a recommendation on which elections equipment Hays County should buy. Ultimately the commissioners court will decide.

Depending on how long that takes, the equipment could be ready by next year’s primary, Anderson said.

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