Nearly 500 Bastrop County voters who requested ballots by mail for the March primaries each received three ballots by error, and the county elections office had received duplicate ballots from at least 14 voters as of Tuesday, the elections administrator told the Bastrop Advertiser.


Two of those voters submitted three ballots, Elections Administrator Kristin Miles said, though she cautioned that the county’s election software flagged the 16 duplicate ballots submitted to her office.


"On recommendation from the secretary of state, the first ballot returned by voters will be counted and presented to the early voting ballot board," Miles said. "Any duplicates will be kept in a locked box and preserved for records."


Miles said the county’s third-party vendor SeaChange, which was contracted to mail and track ballots requested by mail, had a processing error and mailed three ballots to 484 voters. The first ballot was received by voters in the first week of February and two subsequent ballots were received Feb. 20, the third day of early voting.


SeaChange has its headquarters in Minneapolis but runs its six-year-old elections services division out of St. Cloud, Minn. The vendor’s vice president of election services, Doug Sunde, did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.


The envelopes for the ballots also had the name of the previous elections administrator, Miles said, though the elections office had approved new art for the envelopes.


Miles said her office sent SeaChange requests for 669 mail-in ballots to be sent to voters in two batches: the first on Jan. 23 containing 484 requests and the second on Feb. 3 containing 185 requests.


SeaChange was supposed to process the first batch by Jan. 31, Miles said, adding that she believes they were mailed out Feb. 4. Despite the delay in processing, Miles said the elections office sent SeaChange a second batch of requests for ballots by mail on Feb. 3. That batch should have been processed by Feb. 4, she said.


When that didn’t happen, Miles said, SeaChange told her those ballots would be mailed on Feb. 6. Another week went by without the second batch of ballots, said Miles, who fielded calls from voters wondering where their ballots were. She called SeaChange, which told her they were mailed out Feb. 9.


However, Miles said, that batch wasn’t mailed out until Feb. 17 — when post offices were closed for Presidents Day and a day before early voting began.


A similar processing delay for primary ballots happened in Victoria County. SeaChange processed more than 2,700 ballots weeks later than expected, according to the Victoria Advocate.


Miles said the Bastrop County elections office has used a third-party vendor to process voter requests for ballots by mail since May 2017, because the vendors offer mail tracking that is not available to the elections office through standard mail. The office first used third-party vendor Elections Systems and Software but switched to SeaChange in November after the former vendor stopped providing ballot mailing services, she said.


Miles said SeaChange’s tracking system had not been functioning initially and she was unable to view tracking for the first and second batches of ballot requests until Feb. 17. Miles said that she believes after repeated requests to SeaChange for confirmation that the second batch of ballots had been mailed, the vendor mailed out the second batch on Feb. 17 for the first and only time, as well as the first batch of ballots again twice that day — once with the former election’s administrator’s name on the envelope and the second with Miles’ name.


On Feb. 20, the day the 484 voters with requests for ballots by mail received two additional ballots, Miles put out a statement indicating there had been a processing error by a third-party vendor and assuring voters that only one ballot would count.


"Once a ballot is cast, received, and logged in our office, any other ballots returned by that voter would be null and void," Miles said in the Feb. 20 statement.


Bastrop County Republican Party Chair Dianna Greenwood said she understands mistakes happen but said the vendor should have had protocols to prevent duplicate ballots from being mailed.


"My concern is not that the duplicate ballots will be counted — because I know our Elections Administrator acts with integrity and has a proven record of running fair elections — but instead it is with the confusion it might cause among some voters," Greenwood said. "This type of confusion can lead to rumors and innuendos which could adversely affect the outcome of the elections."


"I have complete confidence in our elections administrator who has jumped on this issue, handled it in a professional manner and informed the party chairs immediately," she said. Miles "has assured me that the situation is being taken care of, and I would caution folks against jumping to conclusions and letting the elections office continue to take care of this issue."


Bastrop County Democratic Party Chair Steve Chamberlain also expressed shock "that an error of this magnitude could happen" but said he was comfortable with Miles’ assurances that the elections office has protocols in place to prevent double voting.


"I fully trust that the Elections Department is handling the election with integrity," Chamberlain said. "Ms. Miles and her staff are doing everything within their capabilities to conduct the elections honestly and with full transparency.


"When mistakes are made, they take responsibility and work to correct them," Chamberlain said. "I will be working closely with elections to confirm that all safeguards are active and dependable."


Miles’ office has sent letters to the 484 voters affected by the processing error, explaining what happened and assuring them that their first ballot will be counted.


Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz said Tuesday that he knew it would be a concern that voters may attempt to cast multiple ballots due to SeaChange’s processing error but hadn’t heard of any voters attempting to cast multiple ballots until Tuesday when the Advertiser reached out to him for comment.


He said his office will prosecute voter fraud though he said he couldn’t comment on the 14 voters that had submitted multiple ballots as of Tuesday because his office hadn’t investigated the incidents. He said he was assured no voters would be able to cast more than one ballot as the elections office’s ballot system is designed to catch such efforts.


Miles said 858 voters requested ballots by mail. The county elections office handled 189 of those requests after having issues with SeaChange. She said the elections office will no longer use a third-party vendor to process requests for ballots by mail and will be handling those requests internally.


SeaChange has yet to respond on writing about how the processing error happened, Miles said, and Bastrop County has not yet paid SeaChange for ballot processing services for the primary election. The elections office had agreed to pay the vendor for postage plus $1.75 per ballot for printing and the envelope.


She said she has not yet discussed billing given the errors with SeaChange.


"We’re not going to pay for ballots that were mailed three times, that were not requested by the county to be mailed three times," Miles said. "If anything, we would pay for the initial printing and mailing of the 669 ballots that should have been sent out."