Dallas County wants more from its top election administrator

Dallas County Commissioners Court spoke to Elections Administrator Michael Scarpello about the November midterms, saying they want further improvement and transparency.

Dallas County commissioners said the November midterm election was better run than in previous years, but further improvement is needed.

Commissioners told the county’s top election official on Tuesday that they want issues resolved sooner, better transparency, and election workers paid more quickly.

One commissioner was much harder on Elections Administrator Michael Scarpello than his colleagues.

“The point is that you have failed,” Commissioner John Wiley Price said.

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At their regular meeting, Scarpello presented commissioners with an analysis of last month’s election revealing that voters waited in line an average of 1.2 minutes on early voting days, and 3.7 minutes on Election Day. More than 600,000 – or about 44 percent of voters – cast ballots.

He reiterated his multi-year plan to restructure and invest millions into the county election department, which oversees elections across all of Dallas County.

“We had, not a perfect election, but a very good election,” Scarpello told commissioners.

There were concerns ahead of the election from the public and county officials, but Scarpello said last month that a well-run operation assuaged anxiety.

Over the summer, the city of Dallas and the public shared worries that previous elections saw long queues for voters, disparities in county support by north and south county election workers, and a long wait for these workers to receive their paychecks.

Scarpello told commissioners the county had sufficient staffing, equipment and ballots for the November election

Price disagreed and pulled out dozens of pages of alleged election complaints, reading them off in the public meeting.

He said election workers complained that they did not receive enough ballots – to which Scarpello said those issues were quickly addressed – and that they were expected to carry in heavy equipment and voting locations were chosen at the last minute.

“This is poor management and it’s inexcusable,” he said.

County Judge Clay Jenkins said he is pleased with the dedication and hard work of Scarpello and election staff and voting center workers.

Commissioners Theresa Daniel and Elba Garcia said the department’s technical advancements were impressive, such as a reduced mail-in ballot rejection rate and faster vote times, but added that there is much more to be done.

Daniel said that she heard from several people who were concerned when the number of ballots being cast that were recorded on voting machines began increasing after 7 p.m. when polls began to close.

In a post on its website, the county elections department said this was not a problem. On Election Day, Dallas County processed over 200,000 voters on the e-pollbooks, a directory of registered voters. There was a delay in the downloading of the total number of votes cast across the county’s e-pollbooks.

“Once the polls closed at 7 p.m. on Election Day, the upload traffic on the network decreased and, as a result, the downloads appeared to have sped up significantly,” the department said.

The company Dallas County contracted with, Election Systems & Software, said this activity is normal.

Daniel wants more public engagement on issues such as this.

“There have been so many examples where the people’s side of the election has not been tended to,” Daniel said. “There have been improvements, but there are significant areas that have not improved.”

Payroll issues

Price and the elections administrator disagreed over whether election workers were paid in a timely manner.

The elections department issued paychecks for more than 3,800 workers, and about 1,300 have already picked theirs up in person, Scarpello said. The rest of the poll workers should be paid by Dec. 9.

Following payroll issues in May, the elections department wanted to record time and pay workers electronically, rather than on paper and by mailed checks. May 2022 election workers waited weeks to be paid, according to public testimony at a June 22 Dallas County Elections Committee meeting. The county then promised to work on the problem.

Scarpello previously told The News he planned to allow election workers to be paid by direct deposit, but that option was denied by County Auditor Darryl Thomas, who told commissioners that the two weeks he was given to input thousands of workers into the payroll system was not sufficient.

“I considered it a risk,” Thomas said Tuesday.

Price blamed Scarpello, saying the elections administrator should have looped in the auditor’s office sooner, and people should get their paychecks sooner than they did.

Scarpello said he had to wait until the commissioners approved legislation that would start the process for payroll entries.

“These checks were issued within three weeks, if you exclude the two lost days for the holiday,” Scarpello said. “That’s probably faster than they have ever been delivered, so I’m not sure what all the hand-wringing is about.”

Dallas County Treasurer Pauline Medrano said that poll workers are normally paid before Thanksgiving. Scarpello responded that the election was on Nov. 8 this year, not Nov. 1 like in some previous years. Price asked Medrano if there has ever been a challenge like this year in getting paychecks to people, and she replied, “no sir.”

Jenkins wanted to look toward the next election. The auditor told commissioners direct deposit should be set up for November 2023 elections.

“Theoretically people should be paid by the end of the week, right?” he said. “I know we’ve got a lot of work to do, with getting everyone to work together on improving the system for next time.”