Days after the general election, a time when the political furor has started to die down, issues regarding the Athens ISD bond proposals continue to heat up.

Questions have arisen regarding possible errors reported at various polling sites. Several voters have claimed the proposals either weren’t provided on their ballot when they should have been or that they were given a chance to vote on them despite the fact they don’t live in the Athens Independent School District.

As the one-week mark since the election nears, one local group that supported the bonds is hoping for a new election, the school district continues to ponder its options and an election judge has said one of the allegations of faulty administration of ballots is a lie.

The bond election, called by Athens ISD earlier this year, was split into two proposals. The first, a $21.5 million measure, called for the construction of an elementary school, among other projects. The second proposal, valued at $3.75 million, intends to make various improvements and renovations on several campuses.

Proposition 1 failed by a count of 3,526 to 3,334 — a difference of 192 votes. Proposition 2 passed by a margin of 3,633 to 3,158, or a difference of 475 votes.

In the two days following the election, reports of errors at various polling sites began to surface. Problems were reported at six sites: the Henderson County Courthouse, New Abundant Harvest Church, Baxter Baptist Church, Eustace High School, South Athens Elementary and Shady Oaks Fire Station. Additionally, Athens ISD Superintendent Dr. Fred Hayes said Wednesday he has seen mail-in ballots sent to AISD voters that didn’t include the bond proposals.

In Eustace, a voter was given the wrong access code — an assertion verified by Henderson County Elections Administrator Denise Hernandez — to use with an electronic voting machine. The voter was allowed to cast a ballot on the bond proposals despite the fact she pays Eustace ISD taxes and lives within the city of Eustace.

Complaints at the other sites revolve around the proposals not being included on ballots, or the wrong ballot being given to a voter. Another instance was learned of Friday and occurred at South Athens Elementary during early voting. Support Our Schools Chairperson Sarah Grey said a voter became upset after her electronic ballot didn’t include the bond proposals.

At New Abundant Harvest, a voter claimed to have been given a ballot without the bond issues and subsequently contacted State Representative Betty Brown’s office to complain.

On Thursday, Box 4S Judge Sara Taylor said no election worker was ever informed of any problems regarding ballots on election day at her site. She explained that two tables were set up at Abundant Harvest. Voters were stopped at the first table, which included the AISD propositions on it. If a voter’s name was not on the list, the voter was moved along to the second table that did not include the AISD propositions on it.

Each table was clearly marked “4S” or “4S-AISD,” Taylor said, and included separate sign-in sheets.

She also said voters in line were asked if they pay AISD taxes. Those who knew they do not were immediately sent to the second table. Those who weren’t sure stayed in line at the first table.

“If she had received the wrong ballot, nothing was ever brought to the attention of the judge, alternate judge or the other four workers that day,” Taylor said. “ ... We took extra care not to have this happen and for someone to make a statement to Betty’s office that (the voter) had complained to us and the statement not being true is very disappointing not just to us but to all poll workers that may have had this happen to them.

“You hear of this happening, but when it happens in your box it is personal.”

Taylor said about 430 voters cast ballots at Abundant Harvest on Election Day. Only about 15 were signed in on that day for ballots that did not include the propositions.

For her part, Grey said Support Our Schools members feel the protocol of asking voters if they pay AISD taxes before they vote may have been confusing. The district includes many people who rent homes in the school district and who don’t directly pay AISD taxes, she said.

Grey said Support Our Schools, a political action committee in favor of the bond, contacted the Texas Secretary of State’s Elections Division earlier this week with concerns about the administration of the election. Committee members received an e-mail response Thursday that reads, in part:

“At this point, the remedy available to challenge the bond election result based on the irregularities set out in your e-mail would be an election contest. An election contest is a suit filed under Chapter 233 of the Election Code alleging the irregularities, fraud or mistakes in the election — such as eligible voters not being given the district’s bond election ballot or voters who were not residents of the district being allowed to vote in the bond election — affected or could have affected the outcome. Additionally, it would be an irregularity if a polling place that had run out of ballots turned voters away rather than prepare emergency ballots. Your group would have 30 days after the election canvass to file the contest in state district court.”

The e-mail concludes by stating the canvassing should take place between Nov. 12 and Nov. 17.

Said Grey: “I want to make it clear — our complaint is the administration of the voting. We’ll stand behind Dr. Hayes whatever he chooses to do. ... In my opinion, based on speaking with other SOS members and to ensure a fair outcome of the bond election, we would like to re-vote. I realize that could put in jeopardy Proposition 2, but we feel strongly about the validity of the process.”

Hayes was not available for comment Friday.

The following is a letter from Precinct 4S Judge Sara Taylor:

The article in the Athens Review Thursday, Nov. 6, that stated a voter at box 4S had notified Betty Brown's office that she had been given a wrong ballot and complained to poll workers, that told her she should have read her ballot first to make sure it was correct, was not true. If she had received the wrong ballot nothing was ever brought to the attention of the Judge, Alternate Judge or the other four workers that day.

Due to the confusion of ballots we had two tables set up. You were stopped at the first table which had the AISD propositions on it as you came in. If your name was not on the list you were sent to the second table which did not include the AISD propositions on it. Each table was marked 4S-AISD or 4S. You were asked in line if you paid AISD taxes. If you knew you did not pay taxes you were sent to the second table to keep you from standing in line. If you were not sure you stayed in line to be checked in at the first table which had the AISD proposition list. There were separate sign-in sheets at each table. Table one, which was the AISD proposition sign-in sheets were labeled by poll workers on the top "AISD." The sheets at the second table, without the proposition, were also marked by poll workers on the top "4S," prior to polls opening. Table one only had ballots for the AISD proposition on it. Table two only had ballots with no propositions on it.

We had approximately 430 voters on election day. Only 15 were signed-in on the none proposition voter sheet. It should be easy to check if the lady that notified Betty Brown's office had signed in on the none AISD proposition sheet. The sign-in sheet would not say which way she voted but would clarify which ballot she received.

Even if she had been given the wrong ballot, she never said a word to any judge or poll worker. As there were only 15 none proposition voters that day poll workers were able to give more attention to the AISD ballot voters, telling them not to forget the propositions at the bottom, especially if the voter wanted to vote straight ticket.

I had worked early voting at the court house and all workers were aware of the confusion having two issues added to a ballot could be to some voters. We took extra care not to have this happen. For someone to make a statement to Betty's office that she had complained to any of us and the statement not being true is very disappointing, not just to us but to all poll workers that may have had this happen to them. You hear of this happening but when it happens to your box it is personal.

The only people that may have been upset were those sent to us from another polling place and still had to be sent on to another to vote. These people were very understanding. All voters were very courteous and understanding with us if they had to wait even when phone calls had to be made if there was a problem that came up.

Sara Taylor

Precinct 4S Judge

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