By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
More people than ever are showing up for the early voting period before the March 4 primary election, but a hiccup in ballot availability last Saturday at one polling location led to a meeting Wednesday between county and party officials to make sure the same thing doesn't happen on election day.
Arthur Resa, chairman of the Democratic Party, expressed concerns Monday about the county's ability to handle the record number of voters showing up at the polls after the Killeen Community Center ran out of ballots for one of its precincts for a short period of time Saturday.
Bell County Clerk Shelley Coston met with Resa along with Election Clerk Jana Henderson and Republican Party Chair Nancy Boston to discuss ballot availability for the remaining two days of early voting.
Resa had challenged the county's competence in handling the high numbers, but after Wednesday's meeting, they all said they feel the situation is under control and will not be a factor again.
"There was not a problem in my opinion to begin with," Coston said Wednesday. "It was a meeting to discuss the mechanics of the election process. I did not want this to be confrontational in any way. We were not talking about a Democratic or a Republican issue. It was my goal to make that clear. That's why I had both party chairs involved."
Coston said the perception of what happened is far from the reality.
"This issue has been, in my opinion, exaggerated," she said. "The interpretation that people were being denied and turned away is simply not true. Voters were not denied their opportunity to vote."
Election Clerk Jana Henderson said Monday that the location, one of six in the county, ran out of one of the 98 different ballots for a little less than an hour because of a higher than expected turnout. That area, Precinct 405, is Killeen's largest, covering a large section in and around Willow Springs Elementary, but represents approximately 9,200 of Bell County's 145,000 registered voters and makes up about 8 percent of Killeen's.
But word got out that the polling location was "turning people away," which Henderson and Coston say isn't accurate.
The clerks at each location, all volunteers, will now be instructed to request more ballots whenever they dip below 50 percent of their stocks.
Henderson said the number of available ballots is determined by the party chairs for each polling location, and they will be adjusting their projections accordingly.
"We agree on there was no way to predict this voter turnout," Henderson said, noting that everyone is looking forward. "What it boils down to is he didn't order enough ballots, and we're going to leave it at that ? I'm not concerned about (running out of ballots)."
Resa said the meeting helped alleviate some of his concerns, but he asked for another meeting after early voting ends Friday so that they can set a game plan for anything that could arise on election day.
"I'm satisfied, I think it was a productive meeting," Resa said. "Since early voting, we've had a few issues come up, and I've tried to address them if there's an issue regarding procedure, have them contact Jana ? If a poll runs out of ballots, they need to wait no more than an hour for new ballots, which they agreed was a reasonable time frame."
Resa said he expects to request between 300 and 400 percent more ballots than the figure kicked out by the secretary of state's formula.
Republican Party Chair Nancy Boston said she believed that what happened last Saturday at the Killeen Community Center was a situation no one could have planned for. And she said that party chairs will be ordering extra ballots to make sure nothing like that will happen again.
"I think that the county and the party estimated in good faith what the turnout was going to be," Boston said. "Who would have anticipated this kind of turnout? I think we came up with a good idea to make sure the electoral process runs as smoothly as possible ? On election day, I don't think there's going to be any kind of problem."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568