|San Jacinto News-Times - Local News
Stories Added - November 2010
Copyright 2010 - Polk County Publishing Company
Mail-in ballots create havoc for counters, public awaiting election returns
San Jacinto News- Times
COLDSPRING -- For those awaiting results of the Nov. 2 General Election from San Jacinto County it was a long night that didn’t end until after midnight when the county election administrator fi nally delivered the results minus the tabulation of about 100 hand-counted mailin ballots not included in the early Wednesday morning count. All of the ballots were eventually counted, but not before allegations that at least one poll watcher was handling mail-in ballots where the ballots were being hand-counted in a room located on the fi rst fl oor of the San Jacinto County Courthouse. Counting of the mail-in ballots started at 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 1, the day before the general election and ended at 5 p.m., then started again at 9 a.m. Tuesday, the day of the general election and fi nally ended about 10:30 p.m. that night, long after results of all the county’s other voting boxes had been tabulated by machine. “We had 306 mail-in ballots to count,” said San Jacinto County Early Voting Ballot Board Judge Jim Johnson. “It was a record number and we didn’t have enough clerks to help with the count.” Johnson said he had asked San Jacinto County Republican Chairman Todd Pagoda for help. “He tried but no one would agree to it,” Johnson said. Other than Johnson, four clerks were appointed to help count the mail-in ballots and at least two poll watchers were allowed in the room where the ballots were being counted. “We should have had at least two more clerks,” Johnson said. While waiting in the hallway of the county courthouse for the results and watching the group count the ballots through a window in the door, complaints were made that a poll watcher was handling the ballots. State law prohibits a watcher from handling the ballots. “A watcher is entitled to inspect the returns and other records prepared by the election officers at the location at which the watcher is serving,” but not the ballots themselves, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Johnson said a watcher was keeping notes for him but not handling the ballots. When San Jacinto County Election Administrator Sheryl Evans was notified of the complaints she and an official from the Secretary of State’s office attempted to enter the counting room at the courthouse. “Johnson wouldn’t open the door,” Evans said. Evans said she was informed by the Secretary of State’s office to get the official in the counting room “immediately.” Around 10 p.m. the republican chairman was called. At that time, Johnson opened the door for the chairman and the secretary of state’s official was allowed to enter. Shortly after that the ballot boxes were delivered to the election administrator and the ballots were counted along with all the others. Concerning the complaints of a poll watcher handling the mail-in ballots, Johnson said, “Absolutely not.” Of the approximate 306 mailin ballots processed by the early voting ballot board, 20 military ballots were rejected because they were not filled out correctly and 17 personal mail-in ballots were rejected for the same reason, Johnson said.