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Midland ISD’s $569M Bond Failed By 25 Votes. But Election Mistake First Showed It Passed

By Mitch Borden

After a week of uncertainty — which included a clerical mistake that failed to include over 500 mail-in ballots and a botched release of updated election results — Midland County election officials now say Midland Independent School District’s $569 million bond has failed. 

In the end, Midland ISD’s bond failed by 25 votes.

Officials attribute the bungled results to a new set of voting machines installed earlier this year and used for the first time this election. The machines, officials say, caused themselves, Midlanders and the press to believe the bond had a narrow lead on Election Night over the thousands who voted against it. But that initial count omitted over 500 mailed in ballots.

The mistake went unnoticed for a week. And when election officials were prepared to release final results on Nov. 12, they still hadn’t caught the error. So initially the “final” results showed the bond had passed by 18 votes, which was a miscount.

The joy from the pro-bond crowd — who had hopes of two new high schools and renovated school buildings in Midland — was short-lived. In just a few minutes it became clear the bond had actually failed.

Deborah Land, Midland County’s election administrator, explained that the new voting system, manufactured by Election Systems & Software, was unable to add mail-in ballots to early voting, provisional ballot, and election day totals. Instead, the system published two separate reports — one for mail-ins and one for the other ballots. 

Land says her office didn’t realize that since Election Night, mail-in ballots were not included in any of the election totals. The error was pointed out when advocates and opponents of the bond package were looking at the outstanding vote reports in Land’s office on November 12. 

By that time, the incorrect results were being posted on the county’s website and were being reported by local news outlets, including Marfa Public Radio. Land explained the reason her office didn’t realize this mistake earlier was Election Night had been such a “pressure cooker.” On that night, the county’s election office had technical difficulties with its new machines, which delayed election results from being released for hours. 

The demand for the results that night overshadowed the fact that the cumulative results didn’t include some 500 votes. Land says her office is working with the manufacturer of Midland County’s new voting system to make sure all ballots are tallied in the future and compiled into one report. 

On the county’s website right now, the elections office is now informing viewers that the mail-in ballot report must be added to the cumulative report to tabulate the accurate results for every election held this November. 

Other than the Midland ISD bond election, no other results have changed. Canvassing will finish for the school district and the city of midland elections on Friday. Any request for a recount must be turned in to Midland County’s Election Office by Monday, Nov. 18 by 5 p.m.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.