More Questions than Answers in Hill County

Despite a report from Hill County’s electronic voting machine vendor identifying errors in the county’s March 1st Republican Primary, the activist who originally identified the problem is saying there are still more questions than answers. Worse, county officials have become uncooperative.

Aaron Harris, an activist out of Tarrant County affiliated with Direct Action Texas, filed a complaint with the Secretary of State in July pointing out that Hill County reported in excess of 1700 more votes than voters in the March primary. The complaint was immediately referred to the Attorney General’s office for a criminal investigation that is ongoing.

Last week, Hill County’s electronic voting machine vendor, ES&S, released a memo identifying two major errors that contributed to the additional votes. The vendor reported that a hard drive was not cleared before votes were tallied and this caused absentee ballots and early voting paper ballots to be double or triple counted.

But Harris is now reporting the problem is even worse than was initially believed. While Hill County had reported 9038 votes cast by only 7518 voters, combination forms produced by the county reveal only 7295 voters signed in to vote at the polls. The records also indicate that one voter voted four times and eight voters voted twice.

Additionally, a comparison of Voter ID numbers from the voter file and the Voter ID numbers listed on the combination forms show an additional 766 voters who show as having voted in the county file but do not appear on the combination forms. If 473 absentee ballots are subtracted from that number, then there are still 273 voters unaccounted for.

Harris’s point is that, even when the errors identified by ES&S are identified, the numbers still don’t add up.

In fact, he reports he cannot even get basic numbers from Hill County. For instance, he has been given three different numbers for absentee ballots – 473, 510, and 570.

Without good numbers it is impossible to even do back-of-the-napkin math related to the election results. Meanwhile, several Hill County elections are down to a 60 vote margin, and one is as low as 39 votes.

The problems in Hill County are compounded because the County Attorney has ceased responding to Harris’ Public Information Act requests and has submitted other requests to the Attorney General for review despite clear precedent that the records should be released.

The resignation of Hill County Election Administrator Patsy Damschen gave the appearance that someone had been held accountable for this election debacle. But according to Harris, Damschen was reportedly planning to retire this summer anyway.

Voters should continue to focus on Hill County GOP Chairman Will Orr, who certified the election despite massive discrepancies. It was Orr’s responsibility to review the results and certify their accuracy.

It is shocking that he appears to have missed a nearly 2000 vote discrepancy. Orr must be held accountable for his actions. His resignation would be a step in the right direction.

The Attorney General’s investigation will continue, and any person who is found guilty of voter fraud should be punished to the maximum extent of the law.

But even if the Hill County result is merely due to incompetence and a failure of various election officials to do their duty, the cause of these problems must be identified and Texans must be supplied with accurate results. To not clear up these errors simply invites voter fraud in future elections.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel for Empower Texans. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony received his J.D. in 2012 from UT Law School. While in school, Tony served as Senior Vice Chairman for Young Conservatives of Texas and helped manage its legislative affairs. During the 83rd Texas Legislature he served as Chief of Staff for Rep. Jonathan Stickland. Tony resides in Austin and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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