Fallout from partisan back-and-forth over local election workers’ performance last year led county commissioners to vote down a list of election judges for the November election, pushing the decision closer to an August deadline.
The issue arose when McLennan County elections administrator Kathy Van Wolfe presented commissioners with a proposed list of judges, alternates and clerks to work the Nov. 5 election. It included Anita Phillips, who served as election judge at the City of Waco Multipurpose Center polling place on Elm Avenue last year. Phillips, a Democratic election judge, and Bonnie Belanger, a Republican alternate election judge, each worked at the Elm Avenue voting site and had complaints filed against them during early voting. Their respective parties did not take action on the complaints at the time.
Though residents can vote at any site in the county, the Multipurpose Center was the closest early-voting site to Precinct 2, where voters elected Democrat Pat Chisolm-Miller to succeed her longtime boss, retiring Commissioner Lester Gibson.
Chisolm-Miller beat out Republican D.L. Wilson, a former Texas Department of Public Safety sergeant.
Jon Ker, McLennan County Republican Party chairman, told commissioners Tuesday he had concerns about returning Phillips to the Elm Avenue polling place. He said he believes Phillips, the county and voters would be better served having Phillips assigned to work as an understudy to an election judge elsewhere to gain experience. He said Van Wolfe proposed assigning Phillips to the Waco First Assembly of God Church on Bosque Boulevard.
Ker said he shared his feelings with both Van Wolfe and Mary Duty, McLennan County Democratic Party chairwoman.
“There was a big flap over at the Elm Street location,” Ker said after Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting. “There were accusations back and forth, and there were things that went on that, frankly, if not illegal were highly inappropriate. Electioneering was allowed within the 100-foot limit. People were talking with voters. A couple of women came in and shot a video and put it on Facebook. Anita Phillips was the election judge. Kathy (Van Wolfe) has moved her to First Assembly. All I wanted was for her not to run the location on Elm Street. I do not think the lady knew enough about election laws to have run a voting location.
“I want to make it clear. I’m not trying to remove anybody. That’s not even an issue. I do believe there is an argument to be made that more training and experience is needed before a person is appointed to serve as an election judge.”
Ker said he thought he and Duty were in agreement on the matter.
“Mary Duty did not object to Anita being moved,” he said. “I left the meeting with Kathy thinking there was agreement Anita needed more training.”
During the commissioners court meeting Tuesday, Chisolm-Miller said the issue last year arose as the result of “rumors, hearsay and personalities.” She said she favored retaining Phillips as the election judge at the Elm Avenue voting location.
She said if Ker had forwarded his concerns to the Secretary of State’s Office for inquiry and a ruling, “we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Her motion to approve a list sending Phillips back to Elm Avenue as an election judge was seconded by McLennan County Judge Scott Felton, but was voted down by Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell, Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones and Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry.
Those voting against the motion said they wanted more information.
“I don’t believe this is being handled correctly. We have the two party chairmen sitting right here, and they don’t seem to be in agreement,” Perry said, nodding to Ker and Duty, sitting side-by-side.
Ker and Duty briefly hugged as they stood following the commissioners’ vote.
After the meeting, Ker said it was his understanding Chisolm-Miller called Van Wolfe to express her concerns about Phillips being assigned to First Assembly of God church, and that Van Wolfe responded by preparing a revised list that would have sent Phillips to the Multipurpose Cetner.
“I stand behind the revised list,” Chisolm-Miller said during the meeting. She could not be reached for comment after the meeting.
Neither Duty nor Van Wolfe returned calls late Tuesday. Commissioners were involved in budget discussions until late in the afternoon.
Phillips could not be reached late Tuesday for comment.
Chisolm-Miller reminded commissioners a decision needs to be made on poll-working assignments by the end of August to prepare for November voting.
Felton said the next move rests with Van Wolfe, Duty and Ker, who need to come to an agreement and provide a unified voice to commissioners.