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HCDP apologizes to Slate and Valenzuela

The following is a statement from HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg regarding the recent lawsuit that was filed by two judicial candidates who did not get the ballot placement they had drawn.

At the January 7 ballot drawing, Dennis Slate, a candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number 13, and Javier Valenzuela, a candidate for Harris County Civil Court at Law Number 3, each drew number 1, entitling them to the first place on the ballot for their respective races.

Unfortunately, when that information was entered into the computer list of candidates, a mistake was made by the party: Slate and Valenzuela were listed in the second places on the ballot in their respective races, rather than first.

The Harris County Democratic Party, and its chair, Gerry Birnberg, apologize sincerely for this error. There are 238 candidates running in the Democratic primary this year, and, despite checking and double checking, a mistake was made in listing two of them. That is very painful and embarrassing to me and to all of the folks on the primary staff who have worked so diligently to accomplish a fair primary election.

Upon learning that this error had been made, I directed that the county clerk’s office be informed immediately and demanded to correct the problem by re-programming the electronic voting machines. Unfortunately we were told by the clerk’s office that they would not do so unless ordered to by a district court judge. Upon being informed of that response, the wronged candidates obliged by filing suit. I promised to cooperate in any way I could, as I believed (and believe) these candidates are entitled to be listed first on the ballot in their respective races.

Unfortunately, the county clerk insisted in court that it is simply too late to do anything about the error. Frankly, I don’t understand that. It took less than three weeks to program and test the e-slate machines with the mistake; there were still three weeks from the date the clerk was notified of the error until election day. But the county clerk’s office was successful in persuading the court that it is just too late to do anything to rectify the problem.

I understand that some folks have questioned or criticized the wronged candidates for seeking relief from the courts by filing suit. Personally, I am pleased that they did so. Not only did they have a legal right to file the suit, after the county clerk said the only way they would undertake to fix the problem was if a court ordered them to, filing suit was the only way to achieve what the HCDP was trying to accomplish – remedying a legal wrong. In my opinion, they did the right thing by filing the lawsuit. The party made an error, and I appreciate their efforts to achieve what we were unable to get the county clerk’s office to do voluntarily – right the wrong, correct the mistake.

The Harris County Democratic Party sincerely regrets the error and urges all voters to educate themselves about the qualifications, experience, and credentials of all candidates on the ballot, rather than relying on such arbitrary factors as name and ballot position in selecting the men and women who will carry our banner in the November general election.

Gerry Birnberg
Chair, Harris County Democratic Party
Feburary 11, 2010

I don’t quite understand the County Clerk’s reluctance to fix this error. Seems to me it should be a high priority on their part to ensure things are correct, even when it’s not their fault that something went wrong. And I’ll say again, it’s just incomprehensible that we have to deal with ballot order as an issue at all. The next version of our electronic voting machines needs to be able to deal with this. In any event, as I received a comment about Slate and Valenzuela for filing this suit, I wanted to make sure everyone saw this.

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3 Comments

  1. Sergio Davila says:

    I personally know Javier Valenzuela and he is an honorable candidate that will be an excellent judge.

    Really, how difficult was it to get the order correct? I think you have been too lenient on HCDP and this easily avoidable error.

  2. Anon says:

    This is unfair criticism of the County Clerk. Elections no longer happen on a single day, they occur over a period of weeks. While the Clerk may have been notified of the error 3 weeks before election day, it was not 3 weeks before early voting, or 3 weeks before sending mail ballots. More than likely, thousands of ballots had already been mailed (many of those to military and overseas voters) by the time the county was notified.

    A tremendous amount of work is required to conduct a major election in a jurisdiction the size of Harris County, and much of the work must occur in the last few weeks before election day. Asking the county to completely reprogram and retest the voting equipment in such a short time frame is like trying to stop a freight train on a dime, and turn it around twice.

  3. Watched the hearing says:

    Anon,
    The candidates did not ask for the mail ballots to be touched, just to reprogram the machines. The County said it would take 6 days(based on 8 hour days) because it had taken that long the last time the county programmed them. Although the County clerk led by Republican candidate for Clerk, Kevin Mauzy, declined to tell the court that the Republican monitors held up the process last time, on several occasions because they were not present to monitor the programming, nor would Mr. Mauzy agree that the machines could be programmed longer hours on each day to shorten the program time to half the previous 6 days.

    The HCDP made an error for sure, but the Clerk could have fixed it, but decided to continue being the Party of “No’ instead of working for solutions to problems.