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Lessons learned from Tuesday’s election

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, November 9, 2013

Your vote counts.

If you don’t believe me, ask a couple of candidates for Place 6 on the Paradise ISD school board who will have to wait until Wednesday, and perhaps beyond, to find out who won the seat.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

I was at my familiar spot at the elections office Tuesday night, visiting with Elections Administrator Lannie Noble. We were talking about the lack of controversy over local elections the past few years. Things have run smoothly, a testament to the work of Noble, his staff and election judges throughout the county.

Then I had to go and say, “Yeah, you’ve been lucky you haven’t had any really close elections to deal with.”

It wasn’t even a half-hour before Lannie relayed the news of the Paradise school board election. Needing just a plurality for win, Bill Mundy had received 93 votes to finish one vote ahead of Ben Sanders.

Since this was the first time (at least since I’ve been covering elections) that we had a one-vote difference, it didn’t occur to me that there might be a provisional ballot out there that could make a difference in the race. In the past, the margins have been great enough that the provisional ballots would not have made a difference.

So I posted the results that Mundy had won.

The next day, I decided to double-check a few things with Lannie, including the Place 6 race. Sure enough, of the handful of provisional ballots, one included the Paradise school board race.

“Because of the provisional ballot that has to be processed, it is impossible to declare a winner at this time,” Lannie wrote me in an email.

A provisional ballot is one that was cast but not counted until it is “cured.” For instance, if someone came to vote in this election without a photo identification as is now required by state law, that person could still vote, but they have five days after the election to bring their identification to the elections office to cure their ballot.

Lannie said the person who cast the provisional ballot in the Paradise race has cured their ballot.

The ballot board will meet Wednesday to determine if the provisional ballots are accepted. If so, Lannie will update the results to include those ballots.

That means there is a possibility the school board race could end in a tie.

If that’s the case, then Section 2.002 of the state election code goes into effect. Surprisingly, the code does not automatically call for a new election. Rather, “The tying candidates may agree to cast lots to resolve the tie,” according to the code.

That’s right. If both agree to a coin flip, that’s permissible. Or drawing straws. Rock, paper, scissors anyone? Apparently any method based simply on chance could be used if both candidates agree on the method.

Another option for resolution would be if one candidate simply decides to withdraw from the race.

If an agreement cannot be reached, an automatic recount is held.

If a tie is still in place at that point, then a runoff election would be held.

But let’s go back to Tuesday for a moment. Something else happened that could have had an effect on the race. At least three people who were supposed to be given a Paradise school ballot were given the wrong ballot. In all three cases, the voters cast their ballots before bringing it to the attention of the election judge.

Lannie explained that once the ballot is cast, whether it’s electronic or a paper ballot, there is no way to “re-vote” at that point.

Mistakes happen. It’s why we have the term “human error.” The judge gave the voter a wrong ballot, and the voter didn’t catch the mistake until after the vote had been cast. It probably happens in every election throughout this country. But rarely does the mistake potentially affect the outcome of a race.

“It’s an unfortunate error, but unfortunately there is not any way to undo that,” Lannie said. “… We talk about it every year at election school, and we’ll talk about it even more, especially because this was such a close race. I’ll emphasize it even more. I’ve got an example now to say, you know when you lose by 60 or 70 or 80, one vote, while it’s important, it doesn’t affect the outcome of the race. But unfortunately in a tight race, we don’t know what would have happened.”

Lannie said this was the first time Paradise ISD had been part of a combined ballot in the general election, which might explain why those voters didn’t realize they were given the wrong ballot until it was too late.

We’ve all learned lessons from this election. I’ve learned to check on the number of pending provisional ballots before declaring someone a winner. I also now know how tied elections are resolved.

Election judges have learned the importance of issuing the correct ballot.

Voters have learned to always check to make sure they aren’t missing any races on their ballot – before they cast it.

And we’ve all learned that when a race is decided by one vote, each and every vote does make a difference.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special projects manager.

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