Candidate seeks recount, mulls lawsuit, after big local ballot mix-up

Published: Mar. 2, 2016 at 8:21 PM CST
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After voters came forward showing proof they were provided with the wrong ballots, some local election results are being questioned in McLennan County.

Cory Priest has announced he is filing for a formal recount of the votes in the Pct. 1 commissioners race.

If a true winner cannot be determined through the recount, then Priest, through his lawyer Joseph Nixon, will file a lawsuit in one of the district courts seeking a judge’s order for a new election

Priest lost the Pct. 1 commissioners race by just 29 votes to incumbent Kelly Snell.

"If the county can prove that your votes weren't compromised by more than 29, great, we are good to go, and I will wish Commissioner Snell good luck and go from there. But if not, then we will have to go to the next step."

But McLennan County Elections Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe said at least 606 voters were provided with the wrong ballots.

A total of 92 who should have been able to vote in the Priest-Snell race were not provided the correct ballots.

Another 295 who should have been able to vote in the Pct. 3 commissioner race in which incumbent Will Jones defeated challenger Benny Ray Matus, were also provided with the wrong ballots.

Jones won the race by more than 800 votes.

Ten residents voted in the Priest-Snell race who should not have.

Another 203 voters who didn’t vote in a commissioners race, and who should not have voted in a commissioners race, also were provided with the wrong ballots.

“So if those people could have voted, it may or may not have changed the outcome,” Van Wolfe said.

Priest has decided to file for a formal recount of the votes in the election.

“I am not pointing fingers; all I want is the true outcome… It’s not as important who wins as it is that the voters win. The voters have to win and that means every vote has to count and be counted correctly for the right candidate,” Priest said.

“And then subsequent to that we will file for a new election,” Priest said.

The lawsuit seeking a judge’s order for a new election would be a bench trial, not a jury trial. The McLennan County Republican Party, McLennan County, Kelly Snell, and Cory Priest all have a right to representation if a trial is ordered.

Votes were compromised in instances like what happened to Ellen Derrick when she cast her vote at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the First Assembly of God on Bosque Boulevard in Waco.

She left the polling location, went back to work and did not think much about the specifics of her experience at the polling location until she received a call from her husband.

Her husband, John Derrick, called and asked if she remembered seeing County Commissioner Will Jones’ name on her ballot.

“I said, ‘you know what, now that you mention it, I don’t remember seeing it on there,” Derrick said.

Ellen and her husband are registered to vote in Precinct 32 but instead were given ballots for Precinct 5, meaning they could not vote for their candidate, Will Jones for county commissioner.

“If everybody who voted in this area got the wrong precinct on their ballot, I’m guessing that there is going to be some strange numbers in terms of turnout,” Derrick said.

Derrick called Van Wolfe, who she said told her it was an issue of human error. Priest received a similar answer from Van Wolfe when he called with his concerns.

"We had some judges out at first Assembly of God that had human error. As soon as we were made aware of the problem, we tried to get out there and make the correction,” Van Wolfe said.

"I make mistakes all the time, not on purpose right, so I know it can happens. I just wish it wouldn't happen, but obviously something happened and I am not faulting anyone, I just think we need to get the process right," Priest said.

“They are not even willing to admit that there may be an issue with the entire race,” Derrick said.

Van Wolfe told KWTX the site was busy and all the workers there were trained.

“It certainly was just human error," she said.

“Obviously, the integrity of the ballot box is very important we just have to get it right however long it takes we have to get it right,” Priest said.

Priest has requested an assortment of documents from the county which he will be reviewing before deciding if he will challenge the results of the election.

Van Wolfe said her department will also be looking into the problem.

"We certainly, you know, are sorry that this happened. We certainly don't want any errors in our election process. We certainly will learn from this and will move forward so we can try to make sure we don't have any human errors in the future,” Van Wolfe said.