Tarrant County

Tarrant County Needs More People to Count ‘Unreadable' Ballots

More than 900,000 ballots are expected to have been cast by the time the polls close on Tuesday evening

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The Tarrant County Election Board authorized emergency approval on Monday to bring on more people to help count what is expected to be a record-breaking number of ballots cast in the 2020 general election.

Heider Garcia, the Tarrant County Election Administrator, said on Monday that upwards of 900,000-plus votes will be cast before Tuesday is over, which would be a record in Tarrant County.

The most pressing issue is counting mail-in ballots that have been deemed "unreadable."

Approximately 1 in 4 of the mail-in ballots that have been received to date continue to be rejected as unreadable by the system that is meant to count them, Garcia said, which has forced elections officials to review all of the unreadable ballots and “re-create” them, under the watchful eyes of party representatives, so that they can be properly counted.

The Tarrant County Election Board authorized emergency approval on Monday to bring on more election officials to help count what is expected to be a record-breaking number of ballots cast in the 2020 general election, NBC 5’s Ben Russell reports.
Tarrant County is running into a major snag with ballot scanning machines rejecting one third of mail-in ballots. Election officials say there’s an issue with the barcode. NBC 5’s Katy Blakey reports the county’s elections administrator called an emergency meeting Monday morning in hopes of figuring out how to make sure everyone’s vote is counted.

Garcia estimates up to 18,000 ballots may have to be recreated by election workers.

"Two members of the board, a Republican and a Democrat, or at least from different parties sit together and watch everything happen," Garcia said. "That’s the guarantee that nobody is doing anything funny."

A time-consuming task that means up to 18,000 ballots may not be included in results until after election night -- and some close races may not be immediately called.

More workers were requested from both parties so teams of two could work throughout the night Tuesday and into Wednesday, if needed, to tally all the votes.

"The number one goal is to guarantee the integrity of the ballot and that every ballot is counted as it was sent in by the voter," Garcia said.

He said the process has the approval of the Secretary of State and he does not foresee any legal challenges.

"These smaller issues are rarely bigger issues. They're usually corrected in an orderly fashion," said SMU constitutional law professor Dale Carpenter.

However, Carpenter said because Texas is considered a "toss-up" in the Presidential race for the first time in decades, any voting issue or narrow margin could get extra scrutiny.

"If the [Presidential] election is close we could get very consequential ballot litigation all around the country in so many places you could hardly keep up with it," Carpenter said.

Early voting totals show 660,000 people voted in-person over the last three weeks in Tarrant County. Garcia said the results from those ballots will be posted at 7 p.m. election night.

He expects 200,000 or more to be cast in-person by voters on Election Day.

Garcia stressed that he expects all votes that are in before the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday will be counted before the night is over.

Tarrant County elections staffers are in a race to recount after scanners rejected about a third of the county’s mail-in ballots because of a bar code issue. The county elections administrator says the integrity of the ballots remains of utmost importance. NBC 5’s Lili Zheng explains how the process works.

Another reason that Tarrant County is in immediate need of more people to help count ballots, Garcia said, is because an unexpected number of people who had signed up to participate have backed out, most of whom have stated the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as their reason.

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