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Over Count or Under Count? Midland ISD’s Recount Reveals More Problems With The District’s $569 Million Bond Election.

By Mitch Borden

In another dramatic turn of an election that has spilled well beyond Nov. 5, Midland Independent School District’s $569-million bond has now passed by 11 votes. 

The 20-hour recount on Friday came after Midland County election officials released incorrect results of the vote multiple times. The first error came on Election Night when it appeared the bond had passed by a slim margin. However, county officials had omitted hundreds of mail-in ballots, which when accounted for, swayed the election the other way.

Despite the back-and-forth, this week's recount may provide the biggest twist of the entire election. If correct, the recount shows hundreds of votes included in the county's totals may never have existed.

Just a week ago, the Midland County Elections Office announced the bond had failed — and it’s voting totals were hundreds of votes higher than those released by the recount committee, meaning hundreds of ballots have either disappeared or were never cast. This is a surprising turn in an election that has been riddled with botched numbers and voting machine errors.

After beginning the recount on Friday at 8 a.m., the results finally came out around 4 a.m. on Saturday — and they confirmed one thing: The bond that will result in the building of two new high schools in Midland had passed.

In a text to Marfa Public Radio, Midland ISD School Board President Rick Davis, who is also the recount supervisor, said the victory was narrow. 

 "We won by 11 votes!” the text read. 

The totals were 11,411 in favor and 11,400 against.

On November 12, Midland County published a total of 23,631 ballots cast in the bond election. After Friday, the newly published total is 22,811 — a difference of over 800 ballots.

There could be a couple of explanations for the discrepancy — either there are missing ballots unaccounted for in Friday's recount, or the original voting totals were completely wrong. Midland County has reached out to the Texas Secretary of State and the manufacturers of the voting machines about the missing votes. So far the county does not have an explanation for their disappearance. Davis doesn't believe any votes were missed in the recount though. He said, "I am confident, 100% confident that our vote total is correct." He explained all ballot boxes were inspected during the recount and that Midland County's election administrator Deborah Land confirmed no votes were left out.*

There have been discrepancies with the voting totals across all of the Midland County's races this fall election. New voting machines were used, and on election night, and officials had technical difficulties with the new devices. These glitches — and a misunderstanding of how the machines operated — led to incorrect results being released on Election Night and later on when outstanding provisional and mail-in ballots were counted. These new machines are a key component in understanding the discrepancies in the bond election totals over the last few weeks, but it remains unclear if they had a role in why hundreds of votes originally counted by the county were not included in Friday's recount.

The $569-million bond is the largest bond Midland ISD has ever asked for and if the recount results stand, it will go towards expanding the school district’s capacity by building two new high schools and renovating a third campus. 

Currently, both of the district’s high schools are overcrowded. But even with the clear need for more space, the bond initiative has been a hotly contested issue that sparked two political action committees to form. One to advocate for the bond and the other to oppose it. 

The opposition PAC, Better Bond For Midland, believes the district needs to do more to improve its academic performance and it doesn’t believe the current bond proposal does enough to address those issues. While the pro-bond PAC We Choose Our Future points to the benefits the $569 million would bring to the region, such as preparing the district for future growth. 

“We Choose Our Future” called for the recount after the county published the results showing the bond had failed. The recount supervisor was Rick Davis, Midland ISD’s School Board President. He was also a large proponent of the bond. Better Bond For Midland supported the recount and said Davis had gone “above and beyond” in communicating with them about the recount process. Both PACs had representatives present during the recount.

After the results of the most recent count were released, showing the bond had passed, Better Bond For Midland was one of the first to point out that there were over 800 missing votes.

We Choose Our Future, on the other hand, hasn't acknowledged the difference in the two voting totals. In a 5:39 a.m text, Christine Foreman, the Co-Chair of the PAC, wrote, “[The bond] passed!! 11,411 to 11,400! So crazy.”

The school district plans to canvas and certify the election on Wednesday. After that Midland ISD will begin the work of designing a building its two new high schools according to School Board President Davis.

Editors Note: This article has been updated with comments from Midland ISD School Board President Rick Davis and information provided by Midland County Elections Administrator Deborah Land.

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