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We speak again of an elections administrator

As you know, I’ve been wondering when this might happen.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he will ask the Texas Secretary of State’s Office to examine his office’s election processes after a “human error” in his office caused erroneous primary runoff election results to be posted online for hours last Tuesday. The error made the Democratic runoff for Precinct 2 constable appear to be a blowout for one candidate when, in fact, the correct count had his opponent ahead.

Democratic Party chairman Lane Lewis also called for an audit of election procedures. Lewis referenced delays in the posting of results in May and July, and a Democratic primary race for the Harris County Department of Education run on outdated boundaries. County tax assessor-collector Don Sumners has accepted some blame for the error but says the Department of Education was required to notify him of the change; the department disagrees.

“We all want a fair election, so why not have an independent auditor come in and be able to identify, ‘This is what’s going right, this is what’s going wrong’?” Lewis suggested. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

County Judge Ed Emmett – like Stanart, a Republican – revived his proposal that an elections administrator, an appointed official outside the clerk’s office and tax office, be considered. Emmett said 85 Texas counties, including most large ones, use the system.

“I’m not saying we need to go to what they do, but if there are improvements we can make, I think we ought to consider making those improvements,” Emmett said. “If there is an error, then at least you have somebody who is a professional election administrator. Nobody reads into it that this is an elected person that’s partisan one way or the other.”

I’m glad to see the elections administrator idea has been brought up again, because it really does need to be fully debated. It’s hard to say from the story if it will go anywhere – Judge Emmett and Commissioner Lee were the only ones quoted. Stanart unsurprisingly hates the idea, and if he has cover from the other members of the Court then that’s pretty much that. As for Chairman Lewis’ request for an audit, all we know at this point is that the Secretary of State reported not having received such a request as of press time. I would hope that County Clerk Stanart follows up on that. If Stanart is correct in his assertion that the runoff screwup was just one of those things that could happen to anybody, then the audit ought to help restore a little confidence in him. If not – if there were systemic problems that can and likely will happen again – we need to know that now.

One more thing. Campos, who is on the elections admin bandwagon, asks a question:

I wonder why local Dem Party leaders won’t come out and support an Election Administrator?

Former HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg gives a reason for that in an email sent to Carl Whitmarsh’s list, which I’ve edited a bit:

Under Texas law, the Elections Administrator is appointed by a five person committee consisting of (1) the County Clerk, (2) the County Tax Assessor-Collector/Voter Registrar, (3) the County Judge, (4) the Chair of the Harris County Republican Party, and (5) the Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party. […]

And once you appoint an Election Administrator, that person cannot be replaced — even for cause, unless four of the members of that committee vote to remove him or her. So, as a practical matters, once appointed, it’s essentially a lifetime appointment. (Commissioners Court can abolish the position by majority vote, but they cannot fire the Administrator and obtain a replacement).

The supermajority requirement to remove an elections administrator is one of the concerns I raised when the issue was first brought up. I understand the reason why it’s done this way – allowing for a simple majority to recommend the removal of an elections admin would make it too easy to play political games with the position – but doing it this way may make it too hard. I’d like to hear more about the experience other counties have had before I’m willing to sign off on the idea. Birnberg also notes that if an elections admin position were to be created and filled today, two of the people that are the root cause of why we need an elections admin – Stan Stanart and Don Sumners – would be on the board that selects and oversees said admin. That doesn’t sound like a brilliant idea to me, either. I suspect nothing will happen till after the election anyway, but then something was supposed to happen after the last election, and here we are now. So who knows? PDiddie has more.

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2 Comments

  1. Brad says:

    Sec of State examining the Harris County Clerk’s processes. Keystone cops examining the Keystone cops.

  2. […] his opponent (or opponents if he gets primaried) with a fair amount of ammunition. Talk of an elections administrator has predictably died down again, but if it pops back up that will just remind everyone of why we […]

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