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Tarrant County adding pre-printed serial numbers to ballots for November election

After a briefing in the commissioner’s court and a discussion in the elections board, Tarrant County leaders have voted to use ballots with pre-printed sequential serial numbers.

The Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court contained a briefing about possibly using pre-numbered ballots, which was conducted by Elections Administrator Clint Ludwig. 

Ludwig started by describing what the county’s current procedure is. 

“Currently, we use a system that does not have pre-numbered ballots stock. That means our ballot stock arrives in bundles of 200 sheets of thermal paper that is procured through our vendors; a sole source that is this very specific paper that our machines use.”

When Tarrant County residents currently go to vote, they check in and receive their ballot, which is a blank. Voters then go to a Hart Verity Duo voting machine where they insert their ballot and vote before the machine prints out the voter’s choices along with a serial number. They then go to a scanner where the ballot is inserted, counted, and stored. 

Ludwig detailed how the serial numbers are generated. 

“The machine starts, and the controller issues a block of numbers, let's say 1 to 50. So when you insert your ballot, a number between 1 to 50 is randomly assigned to maintain the randomness of the ballot so the first person that checks in doesn't get ballot number one. To help control the secrecy of the ballot, it randomly assigns those until that number gets small and then it will add, let's say another 50 to it, and it issues. What this creates is at the end of the election period, we produce a report that shows every serial number issued by that controller by location. And you can be looking through that report and you will see 53 and 55, there is no 54 it does not exist, it was not issued by that machine. Then you'll see 56, 57, and so on. [That's] the current process.”

There are several differences between the procedures used with pre-numbered ballots and the current system. For instance, election judges would mix the pre-numbered ballot stock up before handing ballots out. Also, stock used for early voting would not be able to be used on election day or another election, as ballots would be assigned to locations and days. If a location was running low on ballots, stock could not be moved from location to location. Instead, reserves would have to be brought from headquarters, as all lots of ballot stock would have to have their location tracked. The county would also keep all stock, used and unused, from that election for three years. If an audit of the election occurs, there would be no missing numbers in the ballot serial count.

The voting process would stay the same once voters receive their ballots at check-in.

The only other counties that were established as having pre-numbered ballots were Dallas County and Ellis County. Ludwig said that using pre-numbered ballots would cost about $39,000 more than the current system.

Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks (D-Precinct 1) gave his thoughts. “The result of that seems to me to be [a] waste of money, because those ballots that cannot be moved around to satisfy election circumstances have to be maintained separately and then destroyed after three years of the taxpayers’ dollars that paid for those ballots and consequently, at the end of the process, had to be destroyed. To come up with a result that is no different from the process that we have, which does not require destruction of unused ballots after three years, consequent waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Commissioner Alisa Simmons (D-Precinct 2) inquired if there was any legal or operational need to change the ballots, to which Ludwig said that there was none. Simmons also inquired about the county’s performance in secretary of state audits. Ludwig stated that the county had a favorable performance. 

“We're going to be throwing away about [$]144,000 into the trash for something entirely unnecessary. To me, this sounds like an attempt by election deniers to solve a problem that does not exist… I think what will result if this change happens will be, of course, expense to the taxpayers, to do the same thing that we are already effectively and efficiently doing,” said Simmons.

The Tarrant County Election Board is composed of Elections Administrator Clint Ludwig, County Judge Tim O’Hare, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, Democratic Party County Chair Crystal Gayden, and Republican Party County Chair Bo French.   

The board voted to use pre-numbered ballots 3 to 1 with Gayden as the only one to vote against. Ludwig chose to abstain from the vote.

O’Hare gave his thoughts about the vote via a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

“Yesterday, the Tarrant County Election Board, by a 3-1 vote, approved the use of pre-printed, sequentially numbered ballot stock for the November election. This will make the election more secure, create more trust in the outcome, and serve as a deterrent against fraud.”

Election Integrity is a priority for O’Hare. Early in 2023, O’Hare established an election integrity task force. Tarrant County has also seen turnover in election administration, with controversial former administrator Heider Garcia leaving the county in April 2023. Eventually, Garcia became the election administrator for Dallas County. 

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