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Houston County Courier - Local News

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County Staffers Asked To Recount Votes On HCHD Proposition In Nov. 7 Election


By Alton Porter
News Reporter

Houston County election workers have been asked to recount the votes cast for and against the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) proposition that appeared on the county's Nov. 7 election ballot. The recount could be conducted as soon as tomorrow, Monday, Nov. 27. HCHD officials have requested that in the recount, each ballot submitted in the election be individually scrutinized and manually counted by hand instead of by a computerized counter. Six of the nine members of the HCHD Board of Directors met at a called meeting Monday, Nov. 20, and five of them unanimously voted to pass a motion approving a canvass of voted cast in the election. By passing the motion, the directors accepted the votes for and against the HCHD taxation proposition and tally sheets as compiled and presented by Accountant Dick Murchison. Offering the motion was Place 5 Director Robert Grier, and seconding it was Board Secretary and Place 1 Director Barbara Crowson. Joining them in voting for the motion were Directors Dr. Perry Ramsey (Place 2), Kathi Calvert (Place 3), and Carol Story Dawson (Place 9). Presiding Board President Deborah Blackwell (Place 8) did not have to cast a vote. Not present at the meeting were Board Vice President Dr. John Stovall (Place 4), and Directors Jim Dowell (Place 6) and Larry Robbins (Place 7). At the meeting Blackwell announced, some 25 registered voters in the district had signed a petition and filed it with her, as presiding judge over the election, requesting a recount of the votes cast for and against the proposition. Along with the signed document, the petitioners included a check to cover the cost of the recount, Blackwell said. "I think the people who are requesting the recount are just concerned about some issues with the election and feel like it would be prudent to go ahead and do the recount." Blackwell later presented the petition to county officials asking for the recount on behalf of the petitioners. Blackwell told the Courier after the meeting, "I suspect it (the recount) won't change the outcome (of the election). But, if there were some problems, then it will bring any problems to light. With as many things that happened, you just feel like you have to know if everything was done like it was supposed to be done." Opening discussion at the meeting, Blackwell noted, "the sole reason we're here tonight is to canvass the votes" cast in early voting Oct. 23-Nov. 3 and on election day Nov. 7. In approving the canvass, the directors okayed a packet including the names and vote tallies of everyone who early voted and a packet containing the names of people who voted at their designated precinct polling places and related election day tallies. Blackwell said, "There were 859 early votes, and on election day there were 884 (votes cast), the total of 1,743 (votes cast in the election)." Referring to "a computer printout that came out after they ran all the ballots through the voting machine," Blackwell said, "the summary on that is … there were 1,727 votes that were counted by the machine. There were some manual additions. I don't know what they were." Murchison, who is the HCHD board's outside accountant and who ran the vote counting machine— an optical scan reader— and produced the resulting reports, and who has done so 20 years for the county, said he has always found the machine to be accurate. He said, the manual additions are locked up and cannot be seen until the recount is conducted. Blackwell continued, "I know, there were seven manual votes for and four manual votes against, and then another four votes were added in just by hand." Murchison explained, "There were four votes that were mailin ballots that had not been opened that night, and then, they were opened after the fact." Blackwell said, "There were some votes they just found the other day that weren't included in on the original count. "At any rate, … any of these manual ones don't change any outcome. So, with that in mind, … we don't know what the differences are. And so, I think we have to accept this vote. It (the canvass) is more of a formality than anything." In answer to a Ramsey question, asking, "Is this unusual to have the uncounted votes like this in an election?" Murchison answered, "This was an unusual election. In retrospect, (in) the Latexo (Independent School) District (LISD) election and the hospital district election, we should have each had our own ballots because they (election officials) put the Latexo election on the back of the ballot and the hospital district (proposition) was on the back of the ballot. "And then, in their efforts to consolidate boxes, there weren't the usual 21 boxes (for the 21 county precincts). That just makes it more difficult for the clerk. "You give them your voter registration card, (and) they look up your precinct number. Or, if you don't have it (your voter registration card, they) go in that big book and look it (your precinct number) up. That's the ballot you are to have been given. But, there were some problems. There were just a lot of problems. There were just some issues." When Ramsey asked, "What about these votes that were found?" Murchison said, "I cannot tell you about that. There were four. They did get manually added. They were maybe misplaced or something. They were counted. "There were seven ballots that were not counted and won't be counted because they were invalid ballots because they didn't have a precinct written on them. "We actually looked at those and they were plus and minus. There was a lot of confusion." Murchison said, "I think one of the more confusing issues is that (the vote) machine is a precinct machine; it counts ballots by the precinct. But, (in) the Latexo race and the hospital district race, there are a few people north of Grapeland, and there are some scattered people in another precinct that is not considered Latexo, (who) confused the situation. "But, bottom line is when you receive a ballot, and maybe it was the incorrect ballot, you were not supposed to vote for a race that you were not entitled to. That's fraud—(even though you were) given the wrong ballot. You should have said, 'Hey, I'm not in Latexo ISD' or 'I'm not in the Houston County Hospital District' and either ask for the correct ballot or don't vote in that race." However, there were such votes cast in the election, "and Latexo is very concerned about that," Murchison said. "And Latexo, as I've heard—they're going to do a recount, and they're going to do a manual recount." Blackwell noted, no voters in Grapeland precincts voted in the HCHD election, but Murchison said there were some Grapeland voters who were eligible to vote on the HCHD proposition. Murchison said it is unusual that there were no provisional ballots cast in the election. The HCHD proposition sought to lift the 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation cap on the district's property tax rate. Blackwell had repeatedly said before the election the directors would be prudent and would not consider raising the tax rate any more than to some number between 19 and 29 percent if allowed to lift the cap. That would bring the Houston County rate in line with the rates of hospital districts in neighboring counties. The LISD proposition, if it had been successful, would have given the district's board of trustees permission to subtract about 13 cents from the interest and sinking component of the district's property tax rate and added that amount to the maintenance and operations component of the tax rate. The district's property tax rate would not have change from $1.204 per $100 of assessed property valuation, but the move would have placed the district in the position to receive about $140,000 in additional state funding each school year, according to LISD Superintendent Stacy Easterly.


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