From the inbox:
The Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) today filed suit in federal court seeking new elections for Trustees whose district boundaries were wrong in the May 29th primary.
HCDE officials learned earlier this week that outdated boundaries were used in the primary election for Trustees in Positions 4 and 6. The boundaries should have been updated to match the new boundaries for county commissioners drawn by a federal court for the 2012 election. Thousands of registered voters were affected by this error—many people voted who were not supposed to vote in that particular Trustee race and many people were not afforded the opportunity to vote in the correct Trustee race.
The lawsuit filed by HCDE against the county today maintains that using the wrong boundaries in these elections violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “one person, one vote.” HCDE is seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief requiring that:
- Harris County be enjoined from proceeding with the general election for HCDE Trustees based on the primary and run-off elections with incorrect boundaries;
- the May 29 primary results be declared void for Trustee Positions 4 and 6, along with the Democratic run-off election scheduled July 31 for Trustee Position 6;
- a special election for Trustee Positions 4 and 6 be held in conjunction with the November 6 general election;
- filing for those seats be re-opened and that all candidates, whether Democrat or Republican, run in one race for each Trustee position using the correct boundaries;
- Harris County be ordered to seek pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act; and
- a schedule be ordered for the November 6 special election regarding filing and other deadlines.
The HCDE Board of Trustees in an emergency meeting July 17 authorized Board President Angie Chesnut and Superintendent Dr. John E. Sawyer to initiate legal proceedings on this issue. Early voting for the Democratic run-off for Position 6 begins Monday; mail ballots have already been distributed and returned for that race. It is too late to remove the candidates’ names from the ballot — HCDE is asking that the votes that are cast in that race not be counted.
In principle, the result in the Position 4 GOP primary race should be voided and the special election held as requested, but as a practical matter I would understand the judge letting that result be. The winner had 75% of the total and a 21,000 vote margin, nearly ten times as large as the number of misplaced votes. I’m not saying that this is how the judge should rule, just that you can make a good case for it.
Assuming that the judge does void one or both May primaries, it’s reasonable to assume that the ensuing special election will result in at least one runoff. If so, I’d like to make a motion that the cost of holding that runoff be billed to Don Sumners. The more I think about this screwup, the more egregious it appears to be. I mean, given that HCDE precincts correspond exactly to Commissioners Court precincts, from a system perspective the table in the master database of precinct information should define the “HCDE precincts” table as a straight copy of the “Commissioners Court precincts” table. There shouldn’t be any room for human error, it should be defined and controlled programatically, and there should have been a sanity check in place to make sure the records were in fact identical. This isn’t rocket science, but it is apparently too much for Don Sumners. Oh, and then there’s the fact that the error was just noticed now, after absentee ballots that still contained the incorrect 2001 precinct information had been mailed out. Heck of a job, Don!
UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which adds a few more details.
Department officials say they hope for a quick ruling; early voting in the July 31 runoff for one of the seats is scheduled to start Monday. Mail ballots already have gone out.
The suit asks for a special election for two board seats on Nov. 6, in conjunction with the general election. Candidates would have to re-file, and Democrats and Republicans would be on the same ballot this time.
A judge would decide whether to require a runoff if a candidate did not get a majority of the votes, said HCDE’s general counsel, Sarah Langlois.
A separate runoff would cost the county at least half a million dollars, according to Sumners, who criticized the department’s suit.
Jared Woodfill, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, said he disagreed with invalidating the Republican primary for the position 4 race because, according to Sumners, the boundary error did not affect the outcome. Fewer than 1,500 voters were affected, yet the two candidates were separated by roughly 21,000 votes.
Woodfill said he expected his party would intervene in the lawsuit.
The losing position 4 candidate, Raymond Garcia, said he agreed with the department’s lawsuit. His opponent, Kay Smith, could not be reached.
Lots for the judge to sort out. We’ll see how it goes.