February 26, 2020 136 PM
PRESIDIO COUNTY — An error on the Democratic Party ballot this year left one candidate, Efrain Valdez, off the ballot for the hotly contested U.S. House District 23 seat. That mistake has revealed the human error that is still possible in elections and caused confusion among some voters.
Ellen and David Kimble qualify to vote by mail, requesting ballots each year from the county. When they received their ballots last week, they were perplexed to find a ballot for the Democratic party in their inbox, given their status as lifelong Republicans. But they voted anyway, mailing their completed ballots to Presidio County the next day.
Then the couple received two more ballots in their inbox on Monday, again Democrat, and again addressed to the Kimbles. Ellen joked, “Vote early, vote often,” when talking about receiving multiple ballots – but she was also deeply concerned that something was awry with the election.
Presidio County Election Clerk Florcita Zubia says that actually, all vote-by-mail voters should be receiving two ballots this time around. The second one is a revision on the first, which left Valdez off the ballot completely.
“It’s on me,” says Clark Childers, the Presidio County Democratic Party chair. Childers got the names of candidates from state officials, added the local races and drew from a hat to create the order that names would appear on the ballot. He sent an accurate ballot to the printer.
Then the printer dropped Valdez off the ballot. When the proofs arrived to Childers, he missed the error and approved the ballots for printing. Childers regrets the error, apologizing to voters. He ordered revised ballots. Emergency ballots were used until the revised ones arrived.
For early voting on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of February 18-20, Valdez was not an option for voters. The candidate had local relatives who mentioned it to him. Then, he saw that his name was not on the sample ballot published by The Big Bend Sentinel. It was then that he called Zubia, believing his name must have been left off the sample ballot but was surely on the official ballot.
Zubia let him know he was not on the ballot at all.
“One of the candidates running for Congress got left off the ballot, so we contacted the Secretary of State to see what the process was. With applications by mail, we had to resend a correction ballot,” Zubia said. That’s what arrived to the Kimbles, and every other vote-by-mail voter.
Marfa local Jessi Silva says her second ballot came with a note from the county clerk, Virginia Pallarez, to inform voters of the error and request they send in the second ballot.
“We sent out the first ballot. Then we sent out the corrected ballot. By the time, on election day, if we’ve only received the first ballot, then the first ballot gets counted,” Zubia explained. “If we receive the second ballot, then the corrected ballot gets counted and the first one is marked ‘not timely receipt.’”
Those who vote by mail can still change over to vote Valdez in TX-23 by mailing the second ballot in. But Zubia says, “The people who have already voted early, there’s nothing we can do.” Those ballots will still count.
The county will tally how many ballots were cast on the three days without Valdez. If he does not win the election outright and is behind by the number of votes cast during the three days he was missing from the ballot, or if he could have triggered a runoff, Valdez is allowed to contest the results and perhaps initiate a re-vote.
It would come at a price for the candidate though. “I have to get my own lawyer and file at the district court. That’s not fair,” said Valdez. “I’d have to defend myself for an error I didn’t commit.”
Voters visiting early voting or filling out their ballots on election day, Tuesday, March 3, will have an accurate ballot.
For Valdez, that’s cold comfort. “I lost three days of early voting. I’m very serious about this, even if it’s one vote, it deprives me of one vote in Presidio County. That’s not fair,” Valdez says. “I don’t care, it’s not who wins who loses, it’s that all the five candidates deserve to be on the ballot. That’s why we pay a filing fee, that’s why we campaign. I’m disappointed because it affected Marfa and Presidio. That bothers me.”
As for the Kimbles’ sudden and accidental change of party affiliation, the director of communications for the Texas Secretary of State’s office Stephen Chang said that “Voters are often sent numerous applications for ballot by mail (ABBMs) and will sometimes sign one or more of them for multiple parties. They can send in a subsequent ABBM for the other party and it will cancel the previous application.”
The Texas Election Code allows partisan groups to mail these applications, and legally the document doesn’t have to have a particular form. As long as the necessary information is required, the form is valid.
It’s likely that voters sometimes fill out ABBMs for other parties inadvertently. According to Zubia, there were no Republican vote by mail ballots this year –– no one applied for one.