Dallas County Commissioner Agrees With City Refusal to Pay Election Cost

John Wiley Price calls May election 'a catastrophe'

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Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price Thursday supported the City of Dallas' decision Wednesday not to pay the county’s latest bill for running city elections after problems with May 1 voting.

“I totally agree with them. It was nothing short of a catastrophe,” Price said.

In addition to money, critics say a larger issue is how many votes may have been lost because 10 polling places opened hours late.

The polling place at Comstock Middle School in Southeast Dallas opened 3 hours late May 1.

Dallas City Council candidate Yolanda Williams, who lost her contest, was also the precinct chair at Comstock. Williams said the poll judge told her the delay was due to a lack of extension cords to operate poll equipment.

“People came and they found out they couldn't vote and they left. So I don't know if they went to the other places, but she wasn't telling them where they could go and vote as well,” Williams said.

All the polling places had been used in past elections with few problems.

Dallas County switched traditional polling place operations in 2019 to voting centers, where voters can use any polling place, countywide.

The new equipment for that switch has been used now in several elections, including the much larger Super Tuesday Primary and November general election last year.

“The only thing that changed was the manager.” Price said.

New Dallas County Election Administrator Michael Scarpello detailed the May 1 problems at each of the 10 late opening polling places for Dallas City Council members Wednesday.

It came as Scarpello was asking the city for an additional $1.475 million to operate the June 5 runoff.

Mayor Eric Johnson said he was very disturbed by the problems.

“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.

Price said that the county election department let the City of Dallas down.

“If they won’t pay the bill, that means we’re going to have to eat the cost. They did not get what they expected. I don’t blame them. If you go in to get a product and you don’t get what you paid for, why would you pay for it? I’m with them,” Price said.

Dallas County Commissioners do not hire or directly supervise the election administrator. The Dallas County Election Commission does.

The Dallas County Election Commission unanimously voted to hire Scarpello in December. He previously held election related jobs in Nebraska, California, Colorado and Arizona.

The Dallas County Election Commission includes the Dallas County Democratic and Republican Party Chairpersons, the Dallas County Clerk, the Dallas County Tax Assessor and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

Thursday, Jenkins said he would talk with the Dallas City Manager about the city’s election concerns and refused payment.

“Our cities are great partners and we want to have a great runoff for them and we want to fix any problems or misunderstandings,” Jenkins said.

The polling place with the latest opening on May 1 was Northwood Hills Elementary School in North Dallas.  That location opened at 11:15 a.m. instead of 7 a.m., according to Scarpello’s statements to the city council Wednesday.

Scarpello did not return a message from NBC 5 Thursday.

District 7 City Council candidate Donald Parish Junior told NBC 5 Thursday that he requested a recount from the Dallas City Secretary of his May 1 result, which was just 25 votes short of making the June runoff.

City Secretary Bilierae Johnson did not return a message Thursday from NBC 5 to confirm Parish’s statement.

Candidate Williams said she is not disputing her defeat but is concerned that many votes were lost in the Saturday election with so many polling places closed for so many hours.

“How many people did that actually deter? So, we have to look at the overall picture,” Williams said.

It may be very difficult to learn how many people decided not to vote at all after being turned away, and how many discovered there were other voting centers open and available.

Turn out was only are 10% of registered voters for the May 2021 Saturday election.  There were 268 voting center locations in the City of Dallas and hundreds more elsewhere in Dallas County that day.

The June 5 runoff is likely to be an even lower turnout.  There will be 185 Dallas voting locations that day.

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