The two Lone Star States don’t have a great deal in common, except maybe in Atascosa County, Texas, where for at least the past five years the quarter page instruction sheet that accompanied absentee ballots carried not the Texas flag, but the flag of the other Lone Star State -- Chile.
“The two flags look so much alike and no one ever noticed it,” explained Janice Ruple, the elections administrator in the county of 43,000.
No one, that is, until a former county resident, living in Japan, got his absentee ballot this year. Troy Knudson, who is studying for his doctorate degree at Japan’s Waseda University, caught the error right away. He notified state election officials, who contacted Ruple in late September.
“I got a call from the secretary of state, who told us about the mistake. We were told that instructions weren’t necessary and took them out. Only a handful of ballots had already been sent,” she said. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
“The quarter-inch paper was printed on pinkish-peach paper and the flag was small. It wasn’t printed in color. It was in black and pink. So it was easy to miss,” she said.
The two flags, for those watching the mine rescues, bear only one difference. The vertical blue bar that holds the five pointed white star on the Texas banner extends the length of the flag. On the Chilean flag, the blue field fills just the upper corner of the banner.
But all that changed two days ago when the Austin-American Statesman ran a story placing the Chilean flag on the actual ballot. “Since then we have had too many calls to count.”
Ruple says she isn’t sure how long the wrong flag has been on the instruction sheet but said, “I’ve been here five years and it was always there.” She said that her predecessor was probably responsible for the mistake but couldn’t say with certainty when it was made.
Ruple said, after the story erupted, visitors to the county courthouse went around the building and asked ten people to identify the Texas flag.
“Only one of them got it right,” she said.