Republicans in Texas County, in Unusual Move, Upend Primary System

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The G.O.P. successful Potter County is readying to interruption distant from a nonpartisan predetermination committee and clasp its ain superior adjacent year, successful a determination criticized by predetermination experts.

A mail-in ballot being delivered successful  Texas past  year. Under authorities   law, region  parties are allowed to tally  their ain  superior   elections, but astir   person  contracted with section  boards of predetermination  for decades.
Credit...Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

Jennifer Medina

Dec. 10, 2021, 8:53 p.m. ET

The Republican Party successful the second-largest region successful the Texas Panhandle is readying to behaviour its ain predetermination during the authorities superior successful March, breaking distant from a nonpartisan region predetermination committee successful a highly antithetic move.

The G.O.P. successful Potter County, which includes Amarillo, plans to usage ballots that volition beryllium marked and counted by hand, alternatively than employment the physics systems that the region has relied connected for decades. Election experts said the changes would confuse voters and make much imaginable for fraud.

Under Texas law, region parties are allowed to tally their ain superior elections, but the immense bulk person contracted with section boards of predetermination for decades. The decision, which was reported by Votebeat, an predetermination quality website, comes arsenic Republicans nationally person continued to propulsion baseless claims of fraud successful the 2020 predetermination and sow doubts astir the reliability of predetermination machinery.

Daniel L. Rogers, the president of the Potter County Republicans, said that helium made the determination this week due to the fact that “a batch of voters person concerns” with the physics counters and “don’t consciousness comfy with them.” He did not mention grounds of immoderate problems arising nether the existent system, and studies person shown that manus counting leads to much inaccuracies. He argued that insubstantial ballots would beryllium much secure.

“The parties person go lazy and complacent, but the primaries are really the party’s responsibility,” said Mr. Rogers, a existent property broker whose bureau was decorated with reddish Make America Great Again hats erstwhile a New York Times newsman interviewed him past year. “The counties are spending millions of dollars connected physics systems, but this mode it’s a existent concealed ballot.”

He said that “the voters are smarter than our elected officials, than administrators — they don’t spot the voters. I do.”

Mark P. Jones, a prof of governmental subject astatine Rice University successful Houston, said the determination “removes the Republican Party 1 much measurement distant from the modular electoral procedure.”

He added: “The integrity of our electoral strategy depends connected institutionalizing and professionalizing predetermination boards. There volition beryllium much doubts astir the wide outcome, oregon it volition pb to much slip-ups and much imaginable flaws and problems than if the professionals ran it.”

Potter County has astir 57,000 registered voters, and they are overwhelmingly Republican: Roughly 70 percent formed their ballots for Donald J. Trump successful 2020.

Mr. Rogers, erstwhile asked if the predetermination results nationally were valid, responded, “I don’t person immoderate thought and that’s the occupation — I don’t cognize if it was close oregon not.”

Under authorities law, the region elections committee volition inactive beryllium liable for absentee and aboriginal voting, which a bulk of voters successful Texas usage to formed their ballots. But the 2 systems, experts said, could complicate the process and marque it easier for voters to formed ballots twice.

“It opens the doorway wide to fraud,” Dr. Jones said. “It doesn’t adjacent the doorway to fraud.”

The ineligible bureau of the Texas caput of state, who oversees elections successful the authorities and who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, raised respective concerns astir the move.

“Any clip that a enactment conducts their ain predetermination alternatively than contracting with a county, it is much confusing to voters,” said Sam Taylor, the adjunct caput of authorities for communications. Still, helium added that “ultimately it’s their determination to spell astatine it alone.”

One risk, Mr. Taylor said, is that candidates successful contested races could record predetermination challenges to punctual a tribunal to bid a caller superior election. “It’s not unprecedented,” helium said. “But region parties usually bash not invitation that accidental upon themselves.”

“They person each ineligible close to bash so,” helium added. “We can’t truly intervene.”

Melynn Huntley, the Potter County elections administrator, said that she had been taken aback by Mr. Rogers’s determination and that she was astir disquieted astir the imaginable to marque it easier to ballot twice.

“The biggest interest I person is that those 2 systems volition not speech with each other,” Ms. Huntley said. “His tendency is to destruct fraud, but determination is simply a vulnerability successful the plan. I americium acrophobic whether this tin relation with precocious integrity.”

Ms. Huntley, who has served arsenic elections head for 8 years, said that erstwhile she took connected the job, she pledged not to ballot successful either party’s superior truthful that she could support her relation arsenic a nonpartisan overseer.

“I americium genuinely trying to fig retired however this is going to work,” she said.

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