On Tuesday morning, the following email was sent to Dallas County government employees: “Dallas County Election Department is in need of assistance at Election Headquarters at 1520 Roundtable.”
It went on to say that both day and evening shifts are available.
Elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole and her staff are deep in the trenches of pulling off the largest election (by voting numbers) ever in the county and during a pandemic. Interestingly enough, the county is currently looking for a replacement because Pippins-Poole is retiring at the end of November. Her tenure hasn’t been smooth, and more recently there have been reports of a toxic work environment at the department.
Nevertheless, the first week of in-person early voting looked good. Long lines on the first day of voting was a result of a large turnout, not a problem with voting. Mail-in ballots appear to be the current trouble. A Facebook post on Monday, with unverified information, caught our attention after someone who was an election judge said they’d received a call that the elections office was desperate to get more help.
An operator at the office explained that they had gotten several calls about the post, and it was incorrect because they do all their hiring going through temp agencies.
The next morning was when the all-hands-on-deck call went out to county employees. Presumably, since they are already on the payroll, they could be quicker to get on board. Lauren Trimble with Jenkins' office said staffing issues with the Elections Department have been resolved and the department is no longer hiring.
But, the point of the Facebook post was the Elections Department is overloaded with mail-in ballot applications, not ballots. The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot was Oct. 23. Mail-in applications then have to be entered by hand, making it a slow process. If the ballot is approved, it's then mailed to the voter who can return it postmarked by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.
On the first day of early voting, 33,235 mail-in ballots were accounted for, according to the Secretary of State's website. That number has crept up to 64,592, but over the last six days has barely moved.
From Oct. 21 through Oct. 26, only 5,476 mail-in ballots were counted. That’s fewer than 1,000 per day. For comparison, Harris County, which has about twice as many registered voters, processed 40,901 mail-in ballots during that same time. Tarrant County, which has about the same number of registered voters, processed 5,730, and today announced they’re having trouble processing the mail-in ballots and are having to manually enter about a third of them.
Judge Jenkins Tweeted on Sunday that “63,534 have voted by mail of the 100,059 mail ballots outstanding.”
That leaves about 37,000 mail-in ballots out there. Certainly, not all of the ballots will be returned, but if even 10 percent is, it could be well past Election Day before those are counted.
With an apparent problem with both ballots going out and being counted, should voters hand-deliver their mail-in ballots? Should they vote in-person instead? Or should they just mail in their ballot because everything is fine? We don’t know. We asked Jenkins and every county commissioner and did not get a response.
“This isn’t even a partisan issue. This is election integrity,” said William Busby, the communications director with the Dallas County Republican Party. “There have been many people who have contacted the party because they still haven't received their mail-in ballot. The Dallas County elections administration has told these people that their ballots have been mailed, but they still haven't received them, and we are just seven days from Election Day,” Busby said.
As a side note, the fact that mail-in applications are handwritten, submitted by post, then hand-entered is what some would call a form of voter suppression. Same goes for voter registration, which is also done by hand. Making voting difficult and slow is a good way to keep down the number of voters..
This is why the elections department is desperate for workers; they’re doing jobs for which technology is available, but isn’t allowed. There’s a meeting Friday to discuss the hiring process for the next elections department administrator. Anyone can tune in online.
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