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What the Early Voting Ballot Board does

They were especially important this year.

In the wake of the Nov. 3 general election, the air is filled with an overwhelming amount of disinformation about vote counting, specifically as it relates to mail ballots and provisional ballots. In Michigan, two Republican members of the Board of Canvassers of Wayne County, which includes Detroit, first refused to certify the election results there and then reversed their decision. This troubling incident rightfully made the national news. But it should be noted why: because it is an exception to the rule.

It is with this in mind that I feel compelled to offer my experience as the presiding judge of the Harris County Early Voting Ballot Board.

Every county in Texas has an Early Voting Ballot Board (EVBB) that is charged with two primary tasks: qualifying mail ballots and qualifying provisional ballots. Each of these boards is comprised of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats nominated by their respective county party chairs and appointed by the county election board (which is comprised of the two party chairs, the county judge, the county clerk, the voter registrar and the sheriff).

As partisan political appointees in an historically divided political climate, one might expect that the EVBB would reflect the toxic divide. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are regular people, and we look like Harris County. We are CPAs, city employees, entrepreneurs, health professionals, homemakers, lawyers, non-profit workers, retirees, technicians, veterans and everything in between. Our identities are indicative of the beautifully diverse community that is Harris County, and we each bring our unique lived experiences to our work. We are committed to the integrity of our democratic process and an unwavering dedication to free and fair elections.

[…]

For mail ballots, our primary job is to determine whether or not the voter was the person who voted the ballot. The principal evidence we review in this process is the signature on the vote-by-mail application and the signature on the mail ballot carrier envelope. We also check voter registration status. All of this is done in pairs — one Republican and one Democrat. And so in order for a mail ballot to be accepted, a Republican and a Democrat must agree that the voter voted the ballot and did not violate the Election Code. Ninety nine percent of the time, we agree. For those instances where there is a question, multiple teams — always one Republican and one Democrat — conduct the review. Sometimes we call the voter, sometimes we coordinate with the voter registrar’s office about registration issues. If we cannot agree, the presiding judge makes the final call. This happens a tiny fraction of the time — literally with only a bit more than half a dozen of the over 179,000 mail ballots we processed.

For provisional ballots, we are fact finders. For the vote to be accepted, the voter who cast the provisional ballot must have been registered to vote on time and must have not already cast another ballot in the election. So again in bipartisan pairs, we review each provisional ballot affidavit completed at the polling location and check them against county records. We work closely with the voter registrar to determine registration status and with the county clerk to determine whether or not the voter has already voted. As with mails ballots, each provisional ballot is subject to a multi-tiered bipartisan review process and 99 percent of the time, Republican and Democrat EVBB members agree.

See here for more on the Early Voting Ballot Board. It should be noted, the signature they review on the mail ballots are on the envelope, before it is opened, so there’s no indication how the person in question voted. And if you’re wondering how it is they got their work completed so quickly, the answer is they didn’t – they had an early start, on October 14. The whole process took four weeks, but three of those weeks were before Election Day. Makes all the difference. Go read the rest.

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2 Comments

  1. Temple Houston says:

    This post does not spell it out, so I have five questions about the EVBB:

    1. How many members do most EVBBs have? Four? Is there a limit on the maximum number of members?

    2. Is the chair of the EVBB selected by the County Election Board or by the members of the EVBB? Is there a requirement that there be a Vice Chair who is a member of a different political party from the Chair?

    3. Who calls meetings of the EVBB?

    4. Who calls meetings of the County Election Board (ECB)?

    5. Is there anything to stop the majority party of either the EVBB or the ECB from failing to notify representatives of the minority party of these meetings?

    I live in a small county in East Texas and I know our Democratic Party chair was not even aware of the existence of the EVBB and ECB until I sent him your post.

  2. Souperman says:

    I was on the Harris Co. EVBB for the general election in 2006, so caveats apply, such as things could have changed, this is Harris County, and my understanding is 14 years old, so I can’t promise that my memory is perfect.

    1. We had about 20 members, if I recall.

    2. The EVBB was a lot like a voting precinct – we had a presiding judge from the party that won the last gubernatorial election county-wide and an alternate judge from the second place party. The Democratic Party asked for volunteers, and I did, being unemployed and bored at the time. The parties nominated each member (including the judges), and Commissioner’s Court officially appointed us. I don’t remember the background of the (Dem) alternate judge, but I seem to recall the (GOP) presiding judge was Andy Taylor’s paralegal. We worked with a couple employees of the County Clerk’s office; they brought in the ballot envelopes, explained the process, and we checked the signatures.

    3. The County Clerk and Commissioner’s Court called the meetings in advance. The HCDP kept us informed of the dates and location to meet.

    4. I don’t know anything about the County Election Board.

    5. Yes, it is set beforehand by Commissioner’s Court and the County Clerk’s office. Again, it should be just like a voting precinct; it’s managed by the county, not the political parties.

    It could be that there were volunteers who were not submitted by the party in your county, but I wouldn’t know the specifics, of course.

    It was weird; at the time, 2/3rds of the mail-in voters were GOP, but one of the Repubs I worked with was ultra-strict, even when voter intent was clear (as in, the voter might have signed the witness line instead of their own). I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was trying to throw out his own party’s votes (many were overturned on appeal to another team or the judges).