During a lengthy discussion, Upshur County Commissioners Court on Wednesday approved certain election-related actions, but declined to act on a proposed “Resolution for Honest, Transparent and Accountable Elections in Upshur County.”
The court approved the Upshur County Republican and Democratic parties’ request to use all of the county’s election equipment for the March 4 primary elections and any runoffs in May, and authorized Road and Bridge Department workers to deliver some--but not all--election equipment to polling places.
The proposed resolution, signed by the Upshur County chairmen of the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian Parties, asked the court affirm a “summary of checks and balances as mandated by the Texas Election Code.” But Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry objected that commissioners “have no authority over those checks and balances.”
She said certain election issues are between the County Clerk, voter registrar, and party chairmen. Mrs. Gentry added that she believed in honest elections, but that if she accepted the resolution, she was saying she was responsible for what she had “no control over.”
Much of the resolution dealt with a provision of the Election Code mandating that four envelopes “be furnished to each polling place for use in assembling and distributing the precinct election records,” and what would be done with those envelopes. Mrs. Gentry said the court has nothing to do with those items.
Replying to her concerns, Upshur Republican Party Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway said, “All we’re doing is asking you to affirm” the checks and balances. She said the resolution involved taking extra precautions, and that the court would do its part while the party chairmen did theirs.
“There are parts. . .you all have to approve,” such as the provision for canvassing votes in the November general election, Mrs. Ridgeway said. “You can affirm that you would do your part.”
She said the party chairs were asking the court “pay extra diligence” because the GOP and Democrats can’t contract with County Clerk Barbara Winchester to hold their March 4 primaries (Upshur Libertarians will hold a March 4 county convention rather than an election.) Mrs. Ridgeway told the court “you’re gonna have inexperienced people” holding the primary elections (since Mrs. Winchester had recently advised the party chairmen she would not agree to a contract.)
But Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner said the 2014 primary elections were to be held like the 2010 ones had been, and thus asked Mrs. Ridgeway what she meant by saying inexperienced people would hold the elections this time. The Republican chairman replied that Deputy County Clerk Gregg Dodson, who has been overseeing such elections, would not this time.
However, Mrs. Gentry continued objecting to the resolution, arguing “it doesn’t say it’s all us joining together. . .and that’s my issue.”
After Hefner asked County Judge Dean Fowler if the proposed resolution had “any teeth to it,” and Fowler replied no, the court declined to make any motion on the matter.
On Thursday, Mrs. Ridgeway told The Mirror she was “disappointed” that commissioners “seemed suspicious that we were trying to ask them to do something they had no authority to do.” She said the party chairmen just wanted the court to affirm it would exert “due diligence.”
County Democratic Chairman Dan Miles Jr. and County Libertarian Chairman Vance Lowry had joined her in signing the proposed resolution.
After taking no action on the resolution, the court discussed and approved a multi-faceted agenda item granting the parties’ request to use all of the county’s election equipment. Under the same item, the court also granted the parties’ request to use the courthouse’s Central Counting Station offices for numerous election-related purposes.
Those purposes include Hart Intercivic’s provision of election services, which involve poll worker training, Logic and Accuracy Testing (LAT), equipment preparation, tabulations and data backup services on election days. Other purposes include using the station offices for conducting Early Voting Ballot Board/Signature Verification and Provisional Ballot Committee duties.
Although the court approved all that, it held up approving separate contracts with the Republicans and Democrats for leasing county-owned election equipment. Mrs. Ridgeway said written contracts were required for that, and she wanted them signed that day--but Mrs. Gentry objected, “We haven’t seen it.”
The Republican chairman then said she thought a verbal agreement would suffice. But Fowler said that while the court could act that day on whatever matters were on the agenda, it would have to act on the contract at its next meeting (scheduled Jan. 31.)
He asked Mrs. Ridgeway to give him a copy of the proposed contracts after the meeting. She later told The Mirror she did so, and that they were modified to reflect that the county would only deliver election equipment accessories that have no serial numbers.
That situation came up under another item on Wednesday’s agenda: “the parties’ request for the county Constables to deliver and/or oversee delivery by Road and Bridge Department of the voting systems equipment to the polling places on election days.”
Pct. 1 Constable Gene Dolle told the court that Pct. 3 Comm. Frank Berka had talked with Pct. 3 Constable Stanley Jenkins, who had indicated he was willing to help. Dolle said that Pct. 2 Constable Jason Weeks had also indicated he was willing to assist, and that Pct. 4 Constable Phillip Hill had agreed to if Hill is in town that day.
Berka then noted the County Clerk or party chairmen could request the constables’ help since “we (Commissioners Court) don’t have any authority over them (constables).” However, Berka said the court could instruct Road and Bridge workers to assist with transporting election equipment.
Mrs. Ridgeway pointed out that the County Clerk isn’t contracting with the parties for the election. She and Berka each said the other should ask the constables to help, and Mrs. Ridgeway said she was merely asking the court to approve of the constables “working with us.”
Fowler asked whether it was “asking too much of the election judges” to return the election equipment, and Mrs. Ridgeway said returning the voting booths was the only problem.
County Road Administrator Andy Jordan asked if the county would provide cover for machines if it rains, and whether election workers would be at the polling places when his workers deliver the equipment. He said there had been problems in the past with workers not being there.
Mrs. Ridgeway’s daughter, Ronnica Ridgeway, who is opposing Fowler for County Judge in the March 4 GOP primary, volunteered from the audience to provide tarps for the machinery if rain occurs. Meantime, Chairman Ridgeway said the next step would be working out with election judges to be present when the equipment is delivered.
Fowler told her and Miles, “We’ll let y’all meet with the constables and Andy (Jordan) to try to work all this out.”
Then the judge said, “If you want to be an election judge, you ought to be (physically) able to come pick up the equipment.”
Mrs. Gentry said the judges are compensated for picking up and returning the equipment. Mrs. Ridgeway said constables are also compensated for any expense.
Citing her past work as an election judge, Mrs. Gentry said she would not have Road and Bridge workers pick up any sealed material without the election judge being present.
The court finally approved Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer’s motion to let Road and Bridge workers move all equipment which has no serial number. That would include so-called tubs, which hold election equipment but don’t touch ballots; election signs; and possibly stands for electronic voting.
Mrs. Ridgeway said Thursday she was “exceptionally pleased” that all four of the county’s constables had agreed to assist with moving the equipment.