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Reprinted McLennan County ballots mailed out after long hours, $25,000 cost

Reprinted McLennan County ballots mailed out after long hours, $25,000 cost


Last week’s 11th-hour ruling by the Texas Supreme Court allowing Green Party candidates on the November ballot cost McLennan County taxpayers about $25,000, county officials said Monday as newly printed ballots were mailed.

Kathy Van Wolfe, county elections administrator, and her staff had 8,100 mail-in ballots loaded and ready to take to the post office when the high court ruling came down last week, negating hundreds of hours worth of labor.

After the ruling, Van Wolfe and her staff of five went into emergency mode. She hired 10 part-time employees at $10 an hour to assist in the process of reprinting ballots with the three additional candidates, folding the ballots, stuffing them into envelopes, affixing address labels, sending them through postage machines, stacking them in bins, and preparing them to be mailed.

Those new absentee ballots were mailed out Monday, Van Wolfe said, after she and her staff worked all last week, sometimes until 10:30 p.m., and eight hours on Saturday.

For Van Wolfe and her staff, it was just more of the same in a crazy year when extra precautions are being made to ensure voter safety because of fears about the pandemic and politicians playing political football with mail-in voting.

“We have had to destroy ballots with incorrect names in the past, but not this close to the election and not in the same time frame,” said Van Wolfe, who is retiring after the election after 24 years with the county. “We were just lucky we hadn’t put these ballots in the mail. Then we would have had to send voters corrected ballots and they would have been confused about which ballot to return, wonder why they are getting two ballots and everything else. So it would have been a lot of confusion for the voters.”

The extra work for Van Wolfe’s office and those of her statewide counterparts was prompted by the last-minute Supreme Court ruling, which overturned a lower court decision keeping three Green Party candidates off the November ballot.

The lower court sided with Democrats, who were seeking to remove the candidates from the ballot because they had not paid filing fees. The Supreme Court disagreed, ordering that David Collins, a U.S. Senate candidate, Katija “Kat” Gruene, who is running for Railroad Commission, and Tom Wakely, a 21st Congressional District candidate, be added to ballots.

Van Wolfe’s office has an in-house ballot printer, so after securing the proper stock of paper for the ballots, her office added the names to the ballot database. Next they had to test the ballots on the voting machines to make sure they can be scanned through and read on the tally machines.

Ballots cost 25 cents each, and it costs 65 cents to mail each one. The extra printing caused the office to go through two cartons of toner, which cost $500 each, Van Wolfe said. The envelopes inserted into the old packages for return mailings could be used again, but it took time to remove them from the old ballot envelopes, she said.

The county was charged $5,265 for postage on the 8,100 envelopes that already had been sent through the postage meter last week but weren’t mailed, Van Wolfe said, plus the same amount for mailing the new batch of ballots out. That brought the entire extra expense to the county, including overtime pay for her staff, to about $25,000, she said. That money will come from her office budget, which she said she had.

“It’s your taxpayers’ dollars,” she said. “I am really not happy about that.”

Van Wolfe’s office mailed out ballots to military personnel and those overseas voters on Saturday.

Because of the week’s delay in mailing out ballots, it is even more important than ever for those voting by mail to be diligent in marking their ballots and sending them back promptly to ensure they are received in time to be counted, Van Wolfe said. There is plenty of time for that to happen, she said.

For most people voting absentee, Texas counties must receive completed ballots by Election Day. If they are postmarked by 7 p.m. that day, they will be counted if they come in the next day by 5 p.m. Completed ballots from military or overseas voters are accepted if they are mailed by Election Day and received by Nov. 9.

The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5. Early voting will run from Oct. 13 to Oct. 30 at five early voting sites.

INFO: Voting by mail in McLennan County

LINK: McLennan County Nov. 3 election information

MORE: Voter registration information

LINK: McLennan County Elections Office website

Q&A: Voting obstacles around the country and the coronavirus pandemic

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