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Why some made the ballot and others didn’t, continued

Previously, Matt Stiles reported on why some candidates who had filed to be in the May 12 City Council special election were disallowed on the ballot. Short answer: they failed to fill out a portion of the ballot application in which they swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States and the State of Texas”. It was signed and notarized, but the blanks for their name, the county name, the name of the office they’re filing for, and the name of their notary were all blank. (See here (PDF) for an illustration.) Today, Stiles reports that candidates in the past have been allowed on the ballot despite this omission, including some who went on to win election.

City lawyers recently disqualified several candidates seeking to replace Shelley Sekula-Gibbs on the City Council because they forgot to complete required sections of the forms.

Yet since 2001, they have approved similarly flawed applications filed by more than two dozen other candidates, including four current or former council members, according to an analysis of the records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

[…]

“There is a double standard at the city in the application process,” said Ray Jones Jr., one of three candidates whose attempts to get on the May ballot were rejected. He didn’t complete a section of the form in which candidates swear that they meet the requirements for the office. “To me, turning down an application on a technicality is grossly unfair.”

Of the other two rejected candidates, Darryn Call also didn’t complete the written oath. The other, Greg Locke, was denied space on the ballot because he, like [former Council Member Shelley] Sekula-Gibbs, didn’t list a voter-registration number.

Such errors, city officials say, are the fault of candidates, who ultimately are responsible to file completed applications.

I can tell you that Ray Jones has filed a writ of mandamus with the 14th Court of Appeals to require that the city put him on the ballot, along with a petition to stay the election until this matter is resolved. I should receive a copy of his documents later today and will post them when I do. Stay tuned for more.

City Attorney Arturo Michel said Wednesday that there isn’t a double standard for approving applications. He said employees who approved flawed ballot applications in the past missed the errors or simply misinterpreted the law.

“The answer is that it’s more vigorously enforced (now),” Michel said. “We have a more experienced person looking at that.”

I’m not a lawyer, and I haven’t seen Jones’ documents yet, so I can’t say what the merits of his case are. Philosophically, I think there should be some leeway to fix this kind of error. I know that the city does try to contact filers when there is a correctable error, and I know that for last-day filers (as Jones was), that doesn’t always leave much time for such repairs. Perhaps a better approach would be to say that Day X is the filing deadline, by which time all paperwork must be in the City Secretary’s hands, and that there is a fixed time period after that, say 24 or 48 hours, for dealing with minor issues like this that aren’t material to the question of the applicants’ eligibility for office.

What I’m getting at is that I think the rule should be inclined towards allowing people on the ballot rather than rejecting them. In this case, the oath was as noted signed and notarized. You don’t need the blanks filled in to know who made that oath, because you can see the signature beneath it. I can understand the case for strict enforcement, but I don’t really see the value that’s being added.

But we’ll see what the court has to say. Meanwhile, you can see more about Stiles’ nifty reporting work here. Like I said, stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here are Jones’ documents:

Writ of Mandamus
Motion for temporary injunction

Both are Word docs – they were sent to me as Word Perfect docs, but I don’t have Word Perfect so I converted them. Enjoy.

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One Comment

  1. Iain says:

    Oh, my. Not one of the better mandamus petitions I’ve ever seen. They started out captioning it incorrectly (It should be “In re Jones” and not “In re White”), and it pretty much goes downhill from there. Wonder what the Court will make of that standard of review.