Outstanding ballots leave race undecided
Election officials in 29 Texas counties are furiously counting outstanding votes in the Congressional District 23 election, in which Republican Rep. Will Hurd holds a narrow lead with at least 859 ballots outstanding.
Hurd, a two-term incumbent, thought he had a comfortable win Tuesday night, when the Associated Press called the race for him around 11 p.m.
But the contest tightened in the early morning hours Wednesday, and it appeared — for a half-hour — that Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones had pulled off an upset.
Then the lead changed hands again, and the state’s unofficial results showed Hurd winning by 689 votes. Later Wednesday, a tabulation error in Jones’ favor was discovered in Culberson County. Once the error was corrected, Hurd’s margin had increased to 1,150 votes — out of more than 200,000 cast.
Since then, the Jones campaign has vowed that it “won’t stop working until every provisional ballot, absentee ballot and military or overseas ballot has been counted.”
The Hurd camp doesn’t think it will change the result.
“All ballots should be and will be counted in TX 23,” said Justin Hollis, Hurd’s campaign manager. “What Gina Jones fails to recognize is that there is no way she will win this race, given Will Hurd’s insurmountable lead.”
Elections administrators and county ballot boards have until Nov. 20 to certify their vote tallies and provide them to the governor, who has until Dec. 6 to certify the result of the election.
On Friday, Bexar County — which accounts for more than half the votes in the district — updated its tally to reflect 446 ballots counted since election night. Hurd received 183, Jones 253 and Libertarian candidate Ruben Corvalan 10.
Jones gained a net 70 votes, reducing Hurd’s overall margin to 1,080.
Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said there’s been a steady stream of lawyers and campaign workers at the county’s Elections Department asking questions about the uncounted ballots.
“We haven’t seen so many lawyers in here since forever,” she said.
At least 859 ballots are still outstanding, according to county elections officials across the district, but it’s unclear how many
will ultimately be included in the final count.
The San Antonio Express-News asked all 29 counties in the highly competitive swing district for their number of outstanding ballots. Sixteen provided figures. Those counties accounted for 87 percent of the total votes cast as of Tuesday night.
They include the counties where Jones received some of her greatest support. In El Paso County, where Jones won 78.57 percent of the votes counted so far, elections administrator Lisa Wise said 256 ballots were outstanding. Of those, 138 were provisional ballots and 118 were mail ballots received Wednesday. The county was still waiting on eight overseas and military ballots.
The types of outstanding votes vary greatly. Provisional ballots are cast by voters who did not bring acceptable ID to the polls or who had a problem with their registration. Those who didn’t comply with ID requirements have until Tuesday to return to their county elections office and show a valid ID. If they do, their vote is counted. Otherwise, it isn’t.
Voters who had registration issues can’t resolve the situation on their own, said Sam Taylor, communications director for the secretary of state’s office. It’s up to the county voter registrar to determine whether the vote is valid and should be counted.
In a separate category are ballots that were sent in advance to voters overseas or serving in the military. Those must be returned by 5 p.m. Tuesday. The 16 counties that provided figures to the Express-News are waiting for a total of 357 overseas or military ballots. It’s anyone’s guess how many will be returned.
At the Bexar County Commissioners Court on Friday morning, campaign staffers for Jones lambasted Callanen, the county’s election administrator, for her refusal to release a list of voters who cast provisional ballots.
Kristian Carranca Thompson, a field director for Jones, said the campaign wanted to inform those voters that they needed to “cure” their ballots so they would be counted.
“This is public record, so those public records should given to those who are requesting it,” she said.
Taylor said the lists of provisional voters do not become public until the county’s early voting ballot board has completed its tally of provisional votes. In Bexar County, the board hasn’t finished.
“They’re asking me to break the law, and I’m not going to do it,” Callanen said.
The voters should already have been notified, said Taylor of the secretary of state’s office. When those who didn’t bring acceptable ID cast a provisional ballot, they’re given a written notice that they must return to verify their identity, he said.
The final results of the election likely will be determined by the last week in November, Taylor said.
Noelle Rosellini, Jones’ campaign manager, said election officials should be working as hard as they can to get the votes counted.
“It’s absurd and unfortunate that they’re not doing that right now,” she said. “We hope that they’ll release the information before the deadline so all ballots can be counted.”
Rosellini also said Democratic Party lawyers sent Callanen a letter challenging her statements about which ballots can be cured — election officials have said only those from voters who didn’t satisfy ID requirements can be cured by the voters.
Taylor said Callanen has been correctly interpreting the law.
Gina Ortiz Jones, speaking after the Bexar County Democratic Party’s election night watch party, is awaiting the results of at least 859 outstanding ballots in the race for Congressional District 23.
The campaign of U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, speaking on election night, said it doesn’t think that the outstanding ballots in his race will result in him losing his seat in Congressional District 23.