Tarrant County commissioners on Tuesday learned that a large portion of mail-in ballots that have been processed so far have been unreadable by the machine that scans them.
Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia announced the development at Tuesday morning's county commissioners meeting. Garcia said approximately one in three of the ballots had printing issues from the vendor and will need to be remade by hand by the elections office.
"What we believe at this point is that the print shop that did these ballots for us…basically can improve the quality of the printing because those bar codes are not 100% legible, 100% of the time," Garcia said. "So what’s happening is we scan the ballots and the scanner says, 'I don’t identify these documents, I can’t see the barcode.' When the scanner doesn’t see the bar code, it might as well have been a newspaper that you scan. It’s just not a ballot."
Garcia said the process of accounting for those with the printing issue would take longer than expected due to the number of ballots affected.
Each ballot will have to be duplicated and a "remake" will be produced by the elections administration staff. That process will be overseen by official representatives of each of the major political parties, Garcia said.
Neither this issue or the process to fix it is new, he added. For example, ballots that are for voters overseas could be emailed to them. When it's printed, it is smaller than the blank ballot that was sent to them which will not scan.
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The same process to replicate those ballots will be applied in this situation, Garcia said. What is new, is the sheer volume of potentially affected ballots.
The elections administration estimates as many as 60,000 mail-in ballots will be received before Election Day, meaning upwards of 20,000 or more of them might be rejected by the system and will have to be remade.
During the commissioners' court meeting Tuesday, Garcia stressed they were prioritizing accuracy and ballot integrity over speed.
"We don’t want to say, ‘We did 100% and it should be fine.' We want to say, 'Everything that is done is perfect replicas of the originals,'" he said. "If it doesn’t make it through election night then out of the [20,000], we did [18,000] and there’s 2,000 pending. That’s better than we think we did [20,000] and might have done it right."
The Phoenix-based printing vendor Runbeck Election Services was state-authorized, according to Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. On Tuesday, the company provided the following statement to NBC 5 regarding the barcode defect.
"We were concerned to learn that some Tarrant County ballots are not able to be scanned properly by Hart Intercivic tabulation machines, as Runbeck Election Services is a certified ballot printer for Hart Intercivic. This election year alone we have printed nearly 100 million ballots, many of which have been the same type of ballot used in Tarrant County, without experiencing any scanning issues. Runbeck Election Services is working with Tarrant County elections officials to investigate if the problem is printing-related or scanning-related. Once the investigation is complete, we will offer our support to all partners and vendors involved to determine the appropriate next steps to ensure that all ballots are properly tabulated."