More than 300 Killeen residents used mail-in ballots for last Saturday’s City Council elections. Several of those voters were confused when they received a ballot in the mail that only had two or three names listed.
The Daily Herald spoke with a number of those voters and asked whether they voted in the Killeen Independent School District Board election. Many said they expected that ballot to come in the mail along with the one they requested for the council election. When the ballot did not arrive, they were not able to vote in the Killeen ISD election.
This year, there was a spike in requested mail-in ballots. The city sent 410 applications and received 245 returns. In 2016, there were 308 returned ballot applications for the council at-large elections. In 2015, just two ballot applications were returned.
That spike can largely be attributed to the work of Prosperity Central Texas, a political action committee funded by local developer Bruce Whitis, and treasured by former Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin.
The group mailed ballot applications to residents in at least districts one and three, and in the third district, featured candidate Jim Kilpatrick, the incumbent.
Although 310 people voted by mail for the City Council election, just eight people voted by mail in the KISD election. When asked whether the significant lack of mail-in ballot turnout might have affected the election, KISD declined to comment.
“The district cannot predict voter tendencies based on a hypothetical scenario,” Shannon Rideout, district spokesman, said in a statement.
Carlyle Walton beat out Bob Snyder by 79 votes to become the Place 5 winner. Lan Carter had 146 fewer votes than Snyder. There was a 302-vote difference between the number of mail-in votes for the school district and the city.
To qualify for a mail-in ballot a voter must be:
– A registered voter.
– Older than 65, have a disability, have a home address of a hospital, nursing home or other long-term care facility.
– In the confinement of jail.
Jerome Clabaugh was not too concerned when the KISD ballot did not arrive. He is 72, and said that he “wasn’t particularly interested” in that election. He was the outlier among 22 people the Herald talked to, however.
Fred Schniffer and his wife, Jeanette, have voted via mail-in ballot for at least the past two years. When they learned KISD was not included in the mail-in ballot, they mailed in their council votes and took a trip to the polling place.
“Well, I had to mark my choice,” Fred said. “You can’t gripe if you don’t vote.”
Not everyone was in a situation to do that.
Moises Viloria Sr. is a home-bound veteran with 100 percent disability, and takes medication three times daily. When he received the application in the mail for a mail-in ballot, he figured that would take care of any problems he might have leaving the house.
Patricia Powell is in a similar situation. Her husband’s Alzheimer’s disease makes it difficult to get away from home for too long. Both Viloria and Powell wanted to have a say in the KISD school board election; neither was able to vote.
“I thought it would have been mailed in there with the city ballot,” Powell said.
When Rebecca Simmons got her ballot and did not see the names of the KISD school board candidates on it, she voted in person and turned in her empty mail-in ballot upon arrival.
For Patricia Exferd, 73, it was her second time voting by mail. Her arm was broken and she did not have a way to get to the polling location. Exferd did not vote in the KISD election, and was not aware she needed a separate application.
A contract dated March 14 between the city and school district itemized the rules and reasoning for the agreement, stating “the parties have determined that it is in the public interest of the inhabitants of Killeen that this contract be made and entered into for the purpose of voter convenience and public economy.”
The city and school district would provide their own ballots, it said.
City spokeswoman Hilary Shine confirmed in an email Friday that the city secretary mails only city ballots.
“KISD is responsible for requests for school district ballots by mail,” Shine said.
It’s unclear whether the mail-in effort met the PAC’s targeted goal.
Although Kilpatrick was featured with his name and picture on the PAC’s mail-in ballot application, he received seven fewer mail-in votes than Hal Butchart in the District 3 race. Butchart received 49 to Kilpatrick’s 42. Patsy Bracey received 26 and Vantonio Fraley — a write in candidate — received one.
In District 1, Kenny Wells, took home the most mail-in votes with 56, but still lost to incumbent Shirley Fleming, who took in just 22. In District 2, Debbie Nash-King got 54 compared to Larry Smith’s 21, and District 4 winner Steve Harris received the most mail-in votes with 20, District 4 had the fewest amount of mail-in ballots with 36.
That tactic is nothing new, according to Shawn Snyder, the elections administrator for Bell County. He’s hadn’t seen it done for the May council elections, however, in his seven years in Bell County.
“Either candidates or the political party will send something out with a candidates name checked off already, where all you basically have to do is fill out your information and stick it back in the mail,” he said. “That’s more or less during the primaries.”
Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, said the idea did not seem “out of the ordinary” to him when he was first told of Prosperity’s plan.
After looking over the flier the PAC sent out with Kilpatrick’s name attached to it, he said it “appears to meet the requirements” provided in the portion of the Texas Election Code that addresses mail-in applications.
“For an application for a ballot to be voted by mail on any ground, an indication of each election for which the applicant is applying for a ballot and an indication of the ground of eligibility for early voting,” the code states.
Willa Magee, 70, a lifelong resident of Killeen, wondered why the ballot received by her and military veteran husband Marshall, 84, did not include both city and school elections.
It was Willa’s first time voting by mail because she did not receive one last year. Her husband did, she speculated, because of his age.
“(The city) could’ve done a little bit more,” Willa said, who was under the impression the paperwork qualified for both elections. “In the future I’d like to do all of it by mail.”
Willa did not vote for school board because she was not aware of the limitations of the ballot, but when asked whether she would have liked to, was candid and forthcoming.
“Of course!” she said.