WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Two new high schools are being built to serve the Wichita Falls Independent School District, but not everybody is excited about that.
Now, over two years after the November 2020 election and well into the building of Legacy and Memorial High Schools, doubts are beginning to creep in about whether or not the 2020 WFISD School Bond truly was voted into reality by the residents of Wichita Falls.
That’s because a few citizens have been doing copious amounts of research into the validity of the 2020 WFISD Bond that allowed for these new schools and at a meeting of the Wichita County Commissioner’s Court on Friday, February 23, 2023, they voiced their concerns.
Maurice Gauthier is one of many people who spoke to the commissioners in what ended up being a two-and-a-half-hour discussion.
“What we were showing was that there were more votes than voters in the early voting and also in the absentee voting,” Gauthier said. “They can’t prove that this bill passed, that this proposition passed.”
Gauthier said for a group of over fourteen-hundred mail-in and early ballots, only 600 were duplicated when all of them should have been.
“We have over 800 ballots that they can’t explain why they’re not folded,” Gauthier said.
This means the ballots were opened, but never went through the duplication process by which election officials recreate potentially damaged ballots so the voting machine can read them. It’s part of the election process for mail-in and absentee votes to ensure the intent of the voter is preserved and the election results are maintained.
Damaged ballots cannot be read by the ballot machine, and running a damaged ballot through a machine would result in the vote not being counted. The duplicate ballot is made by election officials with the voter’s choices correctly selected. Once the ballot is filled out is then run through voting machines and tabulated, thus giving an accurate election result.
Duplicate ballots are then placed with the original ballot for the purposes of verification. However, Wichita County resident Annie Jackson said of the 1,486 ballots in question, only 605 duplicates were found.
“So that means 800 and some votes, ballots cannot be verified,” Jackson said.
Jackson said she’s been going through records for over two years now. She said she began noticing issues when duplicate ballots could not be found for over 800 ballots. If no duplicate was made, then more than 800 ballots may have been incorrectly counted.
Jackson said 800 votes would have been enough votes to change the outcome of the bond election, meaning it very well could have been a different result.
“386 is what it passed by, but you have 800 votes that you can’t account for?” Jackson said. “Literally physical votes that you can go down there and look at? I mean…”
“If you do the math, this bond issue for the school board, school bond issue, did not pass,” Gauthier said. “We need this rectified.”
But Wichita County Judge Jim Johnson says it may be too late to rectify the issue.
“The deadlines have passed to take any kind of action on this,” Johnson said.
In fact, Johnson said the data that they’ve been unable to find may not even be an issue, because there’s no evidence those 800 ballots weren’t counted correctly.
“The data that they’re looking for that could help explain that discrepancy, and actually there may not be a discrepancy,” Johnson said. “We’re gonna comb through and see if we can’t find something that might speak to that and help explain that, and if we can’t, then again, I don’t know what there is that we can do.”
During the Commissioner’s Court meeting, commissioners said this may end up being a lesson the county has to learn from.
“What we can do and what I think we already have done to a large degree is improve our elections machines, improve our elections processes,” Johnson said.
But that doesn’t change the past, and since no one knows where the missing data is, or who is responsible, it’s unclear what exactly can be done.
“We don’t get the answers because we don’t know who to blame for this,” Gauthier said.
Additionally, the new WFISD high schools are already in the process of being built, and abandoning those projects now would be a waste of resources taxpayers have already essentially paid for.
“We got these schools half done,” Gauthier said. “The problem is that the people that were on the school board originally should’ve checked to see if the votes and the voters matched up.”
“Somebody needs to reduce the taxes to offset it,” Jackson said. “It’s fair.”
Johnson said Wichita County voters shouldn’t have to wonder about the security of their elections, so the County Commissioners are on a mission to be as transparent as possible.
“We’re gonna comb through and see if we can’t find something that might speak to that and help explain that,” Johnson said. “And if we can’t, then again, I don’t know what there is that we can do.”