City of Dallas Refuses to Pay Dallas County Election Costs

More polling place problems confirmed

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After learning Wednesday that May 1 polling place problems were worse than previously thought, the Dallas City Council refused to pay the additional cost Dallas County asked for operating a June run-off election.

It turns out ten polling places opened late for the May 1 city election, more than the 6 that were known before. One of those ten opened more than four hours after the 7 a.m. election starting time.

The city of Dallas contracts with Dallas County to run city elections.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson led the push to refuse the county’s new payment request.

“In a low turnout election like these council races are, some of them being decided by a couple of dozen votes, you should be outraged at this. We're paying for this,” Johnson said.

The Mayor had endorsed District 7 candidate Donald Parish Junior, who finished third on May 1 by just 25 votes to miss the opportunity for the June runoff.

The run-off will include second-place candidate Kevin Felder, the district’s former council member, and incumbent Adam Bazaldua.

Several of the late opening polling places were in District 7. 

It is difficult to know whether the late openings affected the election outcome, but Bazaldua said some voters told him they’d been turned away from polling places that did not open on time.

“The voters were being told that they couldn't vote. So, that's something I think is problematic,” Bazaldua said.

Since 2019, Dallas County has operated voting centers, where people can cast a ballot at any polling place, not just the traditional polling place in their home precinct.

The new Dallas County Election Administrator, Michael Scarpello, agreed that more training for poll workers and better preparations are needed.

“We've got plans to improve or completely overhaul our website, expand our social media, to expand our outreach to our community,” Scarpello said.

Speaking to the city council Wednesday, Scarpello went through a variety of problems to explain why each of the ten polling places opened late.

  • The polling place at Ronald McNair Elementary School opened at 9:15 a.m after equipment problems.
  • The Park South YMCA polling place opened at 10:45 a.m. after equipment problems.
  • At Owenwood Farms Scarpello said there was no voting until 8:15 a.m. but the polling place could have been available sooner.
  • The Booker T. Washington High School polling place opened at 9:30 a.m. because poll workers initially were unable to get into the building.
  • At Comstock Middle School the location for the polling place was too far from electric outlets so additional power cords had to be found.  The polling place opened at 10:30 a.m.
  • At Skyline High School, equipment problems were reported but Scarpello was unsure what time the polling place actually opened.
  • At Richard Lagow Elementary School, poll workers lost the keys needed to access the election supplies.  Replacement keys were supplied and the polling place opened at 7:58 a.m.
  • At Urban Park Elementary School, there were problems opening doors.  The polling place opened at 10:07 a.m.
  • The Northwood Hills Elementary School polling place was of all the latest, opening at 11:15 a.m. after problems locating keys.
  • The Bradfield Elementary School polling place opened at 9:30 a.m. after difficulties with equipment.

Scarpello said a county website map that is supposed to display real-time election day information about open polling places did not work on May 1.

City Council member Cara Mendelsohn complained that some polling places are extremely close to one another.  She said the equipment and employees so close together at locations in her North Dallas district might have been helpful to address the problems being experienced mostly in southern Dallas locations.

“It is an abuse of our taxpayer dollars to have voting centers across the street from each other,” Mendelsohn said. “It’s just such a waste of money.”

Scarpello said Dallas County was obligated to keep all the polling locations that existed before the 2019 switch to voting centers and that some may be eliminated before the next big election.

“Those locations were chosen years ago, before me,” Scarpello said.

Under state law, the administrator said it is the poll judges at each site who determine polling place staffing.

“Typically in most states when you’re the election administrator you deploy people where there’s the most need. I don’t have that power here,” Scarpello said.

The explanations did not soothe Mayor Johnson, who is also a former State Representative.

“I think Dallas County ought to comp us, just to be honest with you. They ought to just say, 'our bad, we’re sorry that we blew your election so bad in the first round.' And I don’t support us paying any more money for an egregious failure to do your job in this case,” Johnson said.

The city council vote was 11 to 3 against paying the additional county money.

The request was an increase of $1,475,551.53 from $1,650,190.14 for a total of $3,125,741.67 for the city of Dallas share of the June 5, joint run-off election.

The Dallas city secretary said she will negotiate further with Dallas County.

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