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Mistaken identity, county confusion cause voting problem

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vote_ballot_paperLast week when Clarissa C. Rivera showed up at the early voting location in Argyle near where she and her husband Victor live, the two had their home-schooled children in tow for a civics lesson.

The kids got more of a lesson than they expected. They got to see how the system tries to ensure each voter gets one and only one vote.

Victor Rivera said the election clerk told her that the records showed she had already voted. He spoke on her behalf as her attorney.

“She’s got the kids and hates stuff like this so she asked me to handle it,” he said. The two are both attorneys.

Voters were lined up outside the Lewisville Municipal Annex last week for early voting.
Voters were lined up outside the Lewisville Municipal Annex last week for early voting.

The computer indicated that Clarissa C. Rivera, who goes by Clair, had already voted in Lewisville on Thursday around 12:25 p.m.  The election judge called the Denton County election office to confirm, and the records there indicated the same thing.

“It was kind of embarrassing because we had our kids there,” said Victor Rivera.  Rivera said his kids had questions about what was going on, and he had to explain it to them. He said that Clair was upset because she felt like her integrity was being called into question.

Clarissa C Rivera was allowed to vote a provisional ballot on the eSlate voting machine — the recall code was sealed in a special envelope to be judged and opened only after the election. The procedure allows those whose names are not on the voter rolls, or who have problems like this one, to go ahead and cast a ballot. The ballot is only counted after the election officials are able to ascertain the voter’s qualification.

Victor Rivera said he wasn’t convinced that his wife’s ballot would be counted. “Even though it’s provisional, and they swear it’s going to be counted, I have thoughts of previous election judges that have said no,” he said.

He said he thinks they might not count the provisional ballots unless it’s a close race, or that if they do count them, it would be days after the election, and wouldn’t matter to the outcome.

Rivera said it caused him and his wife to be concerned that perhaps someone had stolen his wife’s identity. “We’re checking our credit reports to make sure nothing’s showing up,” he said.

Lewisville’s Clarissa

It turns out there is another registered voter by the name of Clarissa V. Rivera, and she lives in Lewisville.

But she is registered to vote in Dallas County.

Map via City of Lewisville, showing county line and city limits. Portions of Lewisville within Dallas County are shaded green. Those voters must vote in Dallas County. Map data copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA
Map via City of Lewisville, showing county line and city limits. Portions of Lewisville within Dallas County are shaded green. Those voters must vote in Dallas County. Map data copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

Although the vast majority of Lewisville is within Denton County, several enclaves on the southern edge of Lewisville dip into Dallas County. The Creekside mobile home park on Ace Lane has a few blocks of homes, and a sliver of land on the southeast side has a city park and baseball fields but no voters. A third section surrounded by Coppell has several blocks of townhomes south of Highland Drive.

That’s where Clarissa V. Rivera lives. She is the one who voted in Lewisville on Thursday. Reached by phone, she confirmed Monday that she voted there.

When she showed up at the Municipal Annex, the clerk checked her identification, and found Clarissa Rivera’s name. The middle names differ, and the two women are 19 years apart in age.

She told The Lewisville Texan Journal that she believes she lives in Denton County.

“I live in Lewisville for almost eight years now. I voted last time right there in Lewisville,” she said.

The clerks should have verified that the voter who was presenting them with her ID was the same Clarissa on the voter rolls, but that didn’t happen. Had they done that, they would have known that Clarissa was not the same voter they had in the system.  But only the one Clarissa Rivera was on the voter roll, and lines have been long. It’s not an extremely common name.

“I even received those notices that they send in the mail like the year prior,” said Clarissa V, Rivera, referring to her voter ID card.  “I took it with me when I went to vote, and she saw my address and everything there.” Clarissa said the poll worker made her fill out a change of address card. “So I did it and they gave me a number to vote, and I did,” she said.

“It’s really frustrating that I cannot feel at ease with the situation,” she said. “I’m upset too, because it shouldn’t happen. I’m doing everything according to the law and that’s not working right.”

Denton County elections administrator Lannie Noble said Monday that he knew about the issue. “We were aware of it yesterday, and we investigated it this morning, and it happens almost every election— someone gets mismarked,” said Noble.  Noble said he had spoken to Victor Rivera about it.

Noble explained that the records showed someone came in and presented ID matching Clarissa Rivera’s name on the rolls.  “The poll worker unfortunately did not verify the birthday,” he said.

Noble explained that Clarissa C. Rivera’s vote would be counted, because the election office would compare the signature book to Clarissa C. Rivera’s signature on file as part of the provisional process.

Noble searched the the Lewisville address for Clarissa V. Rivera, and after conferring with his GIS staff, he confirmed that her address is in Dallas County.

Noble said that in the past, Denton County had been able to conduct Lewisville city elections no matter what county the voters were in. “It could be that she did used to vote in Lewisville,” said Noble. Noble said that counties in Texas no longer conduct elections across county lines. As an example, Noble noted that the city of Fort Worth has a handful of voters within Denton County, and that city contracts with Denton County for several thousand dollars to handle the ballots for those voters. Lewisville spends thousands of dollars for Dallas County to handle elections in precincts that sometimes bring in only single digits of voters in city elections.

“Everybody should know what county they are registered to vote in,” said Noble.

Clarissa V. Rivera now knows that she lives in Dallas County.

And she will not be able to get a do-over to move her vote to Dallas County. Noble says there is no way to remove her vote from the electronic tabulations in Denton County.

Victor Rivera said that voting clerks need some other way of confirming that a voter presenting their ID is the same voter on the rolls. “Why are we asking address questions?” he asked. “Why not ask date of birth, or social [security number] or something?” he asked.

Victor Rivera said the situation was disheartening. “We’re the legal citizens here with constitutional rights that have been trampled on because of a human error,” he said. He said his wife was mad at the elections personnel in Lewisville who made the mistake.

Lewisville residents in the southern end of Creekside Mobile Home Park and in neighborhoods south of Highland Drive are encouraged to double-check their voter registration using the Texas Secretary of State’s website where a voter can search for their registration to be certain which county it is in.

Voters registered in Dallas County can find a list of polling locations at the Dallas County elections website, dallascountyvotes.org.  Denton County voters can get polling information at the Denton County elections website, votedenton.com.

-Written by Steve Southwell, Lewisville Texan Journal

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