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Tarrant elections office will switch to prenumbered ballots following party-line vote

Troy Havard, assistant elections administrator, arranges sample ballots on a table during the public elections test.
Emily Wolf
Fort Worth Report
Troy Havard, assistant elections administrator, arranges sample ballots on a table during the public elections test.

Tarrant County will use prenumbered, sequential ballots in the Nov. 5 presidential elections following a party-line vote of the Tarrant County Election Board.

After the vote, County Judge Tim O’Hare said using prenumbered ballots was a top request from constituents, along with lowering property taxes.

“The more you can do, within reason, where people have trust that this (election) is accurate, it truly reflects the vote, I think we’re all the better,” O’Hare said.

Democratic Party Election Chair Crystal Gayden was the lone vote against purchasing the prenumbered ballots. O’Hare, Republican Party Chair Bo French and Sheriff Bill Waybourn, all Republicans, voted yes to the change. Elections Administrator Clint Ludwig recused himself from the vote, saying he did not want to vote on an agenda item that directed him to perform a task.

Both Gayden and O’Hare acknowledged that the decision fell along party lines. O’Hare questioned Democrats’ opposition to the change.

“I think the question I would have to ask of the Democrats is, why don’t you want this? Because I know it’s not because you’re doing everything you can to save $39,000.”

Following the vote, Gayden said she wasn’t convinced that elections would be made more secure using prenumbered ballots.

“Our system has shown and proven, election cycle after election cycle, that there is no need to put in additional measures because it’s not broken,” Gayden said.

Despite elections across the country, including in Tarrant County, undergoing forensic audits that found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would have influenced the election results, several speakers expressed a desire for Tarrant County elections to be made more secure.

Seven speakers at the Election Board meeting spoke in favor of purchasing the prenumbered ballots, and five spoke against it.

“I think this will improve the trust of the system,” Waybourn said. “I think it’s well worth the cost to help give people confidence in what we’re doing.”

Currently, the county purchases blank pieces of ballot paper and distributes it to the county’s polling locations, Ludwig told commissioners Tuesday. When voters insert the ballot paper into the voting machine, it assigns the blank piece of paper a number that can be used to track the ballot through the voting process.

Using prenumbered ballots, the elections administration will instead assign them to the county’s polling locations. There, voters will now select prenumbered ballots that have been laid out on a table and mixed up to preserve the secrecy of the people’s vote.

At the end of the night, the election judge will track which ballots were used, which ballots were spoiled, and which ballots went unused. The county will then store the unused prenumbered ballots for three years before destroying them along with the rest of the election records, as required by state law.

Prenumbered ballots cannot be reused unlike blank ballots, which can be reused in another election.

Several longtime election judges signed up to comment on the proposal following Luwig’s presentation to Tarrant County Commissioners. In all, 19 speakers spoke against the proposal, and one spoke in favor at the county commissioners court meeting preceding the Election Board meeting.

“The result of that seems to be waste, a waste of money because the ballots cannot be moved around to satisfy election circumstances, have to be maintained separately, and are destroyed after three years,” County Commissioner Roy Brooks said following the presentation. “It’s the taxpayers’ dollars that paid for those ballots that consequently at the end of the process have to be destroyed, to come up with a result that is no different from the process that we have now.”

Blank ballot paper costs the county $290 for every 1,000 ballots. Prenumbered ballots would cost $320 for every 1,000 ballots purchased by the city. The cost difference would be $39,000 per election, County Judge Tim O’Hare estimates about $13,000 worth of ballots would be wasted during the Nov. 5 presidential election.

Tarrant County will hold four elections in 2024, if Tarrant County used prenumbered ballots for all four elections, it would result in about $52,000 worth of extra ballot paper.

Ellis and Dallas counties use prenumbered paper ballots. Every other major county in the state uses ballots similar to Tarrant County’s.

“The use of prenumbered ballot stock will not improve the accuracy of Tarrant County elections but will rather add unnecessary bureaucracy and increased cost.” Janet Mattern of the League of Women Voters of Tarrant County said to commissioners.

The county will also be more vulnerable to ballot paper shortages and variable costs, Mattern said. Instead, she advocated for hiring more poll workers and increasing their pay as a method of improving election security.

Aubree Campbell, the lone public speaker in favor of purchasing prenumbered ballots at the commissioners court meeting, said the county was violating the state election code by not using prenumbered ballots. Campbell also said that using prenumbered ballots would make it more difficult for false ballots to be added during the voting process.

A 2022 Texas Attorney General opinion affirmed the Texas Secretary of State’s interpretation of the Election Code and ruled that using blank ballots that are assigned an identifying number by machine at the polling location complied with the Texas Election Code.

“This is not a Republican issue. This is an election security issue. The focus must be on prevention,” Campbell said.

O’Hare said he’s worked to increase trust in Tarrant County elections by establishing an Election Integrity Task Force. Since its founding in February 2023, the unit has received about 78 complaints and referred about four to the district attorney for possible prosecution, Waybourn said.

O’Hare also cited internal improvements to the election process, including updating passwords and storing ballots more securely. O’Hare also plans to allow an outside group to determine if the county’s election process could be improved.

He does not plan to eliminate countywide voting, as some election integrity groups have proposed.

“Other than that, I don’t know of anything else that is being looked at or worked on, nor do I have any plans to, but I always listen to what people are saying,” O’Hare said.

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.