Killeen residents living in District 4 will be heading to the polls soon for an election do-over.
To say that this is an unusual scenario is an understatement.
It’s all because the top two vote-getters in the District 4 city council race, incumbent Steve Harris and challenger Michael Boyd, tied with 181 votes apiece. That tally was confirmed after the council canvassed the election results Tuesday, and then again when a five-member committee oversaw a state-mandated recounting of the ballots on Thursday.
So now the race is headed for a second election, on a date to be determined by the council at its meeting this week.
The big difference is that this time, a third candidate — Brockley Moore — will not be on the ballot. Moore drew 112 votes in the May 1 balloting, and how many of those voters turn out a second time — and how they split between Boyd and Harris — may well determine the outcome.
But before getting too focused on how the second election might play out, it’s important to examine some problems that may have altered the outcome of the May 1 race.
First, Bell County election officials confirmed that 24 residences on Carpet Lane were mischaracterized as being in District 3 by the city, and the county missed the mistake when reviewing the district maps for the county’s voter database.
As a result, 39 voters in those 24 residences, which are actually in District 4, were potentially affected. The city said a total of seven voters were incorrectly listed on the voting rolls for the May 1 election.
Though the problem was brought to the city’s attention during early voting, and the problem was supposedly corrected by the county elections office, the city confirmed that four voters were still incorrectly listed on Election Day.
Last week, the city said it has no way of determining how many incorrect ballots were actually cast — which seems like a questionable assertion, given the sophisticated voter sign-in procedure used with the electronic voting process.
This ballot issue is not a new one in Killeen city elections, which is distressing. In fact, the problem dates back to at least 2011, when 16 voters in District 2 were improperly given District 3 ballots in that municipal election.
At the time, then-City Attorney Kathy Davis said the mistake was inconsequential since it didn’t affect the outcome of the election, which had a 166-vote margin for the winning candidate.
Still, whether the ballot mixup is due to an incorrect election map or inadequate training of election workers, this is not something that should be shrugged off.
Part of the problem is that some precincts overlap between District 3 and District 4. That makes for confusion among both election workers and voters.
One District 4 voter showed up at a polling site that was designated as a District 3 site, but was located in a District 4 precinct. The voter told the Herald that the poll worker gave him a Precinct 3 ballot, and that only after he demanded a District 4 ballot did the poll worker look up the voter’s residency information. He ultimately received the correct ballot and voted accordingly.
This may seem like a small oversight, but when mistakes like this occur in a close election, they are magnified. And when voters are not given the opportunity to cast their ballots in the correct races, both the voters and the candidates lose.
In the current case, a single miscast vote may have tipped the District 4 election.
However, the fact that the race ended up tied may actually be a net plus — though the cost of conducting a second election won’t be cheap. The city staff estimates it will be about $7,100.
Ultimately, this election mulligan is a chance for the city to make things right.
Going into the second Boyd-Harris face-off, the city must be certain that district maps are clearly drawn, voter rolls are correct and that every eligible voter has an opportunity to cast a ballot.
Moreover, election officials must take steps to verify that election workers are thoroughly trained and given all resources necessary to ensure a problem-free voting process.
Still, some factors have changed since the first election — and that almost guarantees a different outcome.
Most obviously, Moore is no longer on the ballot, so voters who cast their ballots for him will have to decide who to support, or whether to support either remaining candidate. Already, Moore has said he will support Boyd’s candidacy, but that doesn’t mean Moore’s backers will do the same.
Secondly, the issue of turnout will be magnified this time around. Only 3% of the district’s voters cast a ballot in the May 1 election, and a single-race runoff is likely to draw even fewer voters. Needless to say, both candidates will be doing everything they can to bring supporters to the polls.
Finally, issues that may have been important during the May 1 election may no longer carry the same weight. For example, Harris was the only council member to vote against a ban on no-knock warrants by the Killeen Police Department — a vote that came the same night early voting ended. Harris said he voted against the ban because he thought it was an issue that should be decided by the voters. Nevertheless, his “no” vote was the subject of conversation in Killeen for the rest of that week leading up to Election Day.
Whether causal or coincidental, Harris drew 113 votes during early voting, but just 66 on Election Day (plus two provisional votes from overseas). During that same period, Boyd’s saw his support remain somewhat constant, garnering 96 votes during early voting and 85 votes on Election Day.
Will the council’s no-knock vote be a factor in the second election, or have voters moved on to other areas of concern, such as city budget matters, roads and crime?
Certainly, District 4 voters should go into the next election well informed about both the candidates and their stands on a variety of issues.
The Herald intends to help in this regard. The paper has invited Boyd and Harris to sit down for an interview this week, in which they can share their views on major city issues, list their priorities and propose solutions to the challenges facing the city.
We will print their answers in next Sunday’s Herald, as well as online, to help District 4 voters make an informed choice about who they want to represent them on the Killeen City Council.
It’s not too often that voters get a second chance to make themselves heard.
District 4 voters should plan to make the most of this opportunity.