By Mitch Borden
Inside the Midland County Annex, volunteers huddled around two small tables to count hundreds of votes found in a missing ballot box with from the Nov. 5 Midland Independent School District election.
By the end of Friday’s two-hour count, it was finally clear: the district’s $569 million bond initiative failed by 26 votes — 11,826 against and 11,800 in favor.
The recently discovered box and the attempt to ensure all votes from the November election are counted are the latest plot twists in an election that’s slowly unfolded over the course of two-and-a-half months.
At first, Midland Independent School District’s $569 million bond appeared to pass. Then it failed by 25 votes. After a recount, the bond looked as if it had passed again. But then the box of untallied ballots was found — and the election was soon contested.
During Friday’s count, lawyers, Midland officials, and residents gathered to watch as one by one, election volunteers added up hundreds of ballots. A separate, single ballot was found in a voting machine and the other 836 ballots tallied were left in the metal box that had been misplaced for weeks and unaccounted for by the Midland Elections Office.
Permian Basin Schools are bursting with students as the region’s population increases in response to the West Texas oil industry. Midland ISD projects in the coming decades even more students will enroll in the district. And the bond was originally to prepare for this growth. As it appeared on ballots, the bond would’ve built two new schools and refurbish others to address the district’s overcrowded campuses, while also preparing for future growth.
But the $569 million bond was the largest ever asked for by the school district and voters had problems with it.
That existing tension only grew when discrepancies in the election started to pile up.
First, the county elections office published incorrect results and then the hand recount found hundreds of votes were missing. At the time, election officials couldn’t explain how there was such a large discrepancy between the election’s original results and the recount’s totals.
While officials denied the ballots could be lost, some believed there might have been a mistake with the recount. Others worried that the brand new voting machines the county used, had malfunctioned.
After weeks of speculation, the election was contested.
But the recount results — which failed to include hundreds of ballots — had been certified. So the only way for the results to be overturned, was for a judge to order it.
Two parties stepped forward to challenge the election. First, the leaders of the pro-bond political action committee We Choose Our Future contested it, asking the court to allow the recently found ballots to be tallied. The ballots, if approved by a judge, could later be officially added to the recount’s results. By this time, bond advocates believed the bond had failed, but they pushed for the election contest to ensure every vote cast in the bond was counted. At the same time, the leadership of the anti-bond PAC intervened in the election contest to ask for the whole bond election to be thrown out.
The judge opted to allow the count to move forward.
Friday’s results show that the county’s voting machine’s accuracy is no longer in question. There was one more vote found than the original results tabulated by the machines.
Both parties say they are satisfied with the results and all that’s left to do is file the new voting numbers with the court. Once that’s done, the judge overseeing the election is expected to certify the new results — Midland ISD $569 million bond initiative officially failed.
School officials and advocates have remained adamant that a school facility bond is necessary and that they will work more with the community to design a new proposal.