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Chris Diaz

Endorsement watch: First, reform the office

The Chron has almost as much to say about the office of Constable as it does about the candidates for Constable that they prefer.

Harris County needs to bring these law enforcement fiefdoms in line: Update precincts to equalize populations, reduce the competing bureaucracies, centralize the evidence room and put county law enforcement responsibility in the hands of the Sheriff’s Office. Harris County also needs to encourage unincorporated regions to directly fund their own law enforcement, whether through independent taxing districts or incorporation into formal cities.

It is time to return constables to their core duties. It will save taxpayer dollars, streamline government and knock out some of Harris County’s most problem-prone institutions.

Until that day, the Houston Chronicle editorial board makes the following endorsements in the contested races for Harris County constables.

Alan Rosen

Alan Rosen

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan Rosen

Since his election in 2012, Constable Alan Rosen has set the standard across the county for professionalism. While his precinct covers the western half of the Inner Loop and inside Beltway 8 from US 290 to Interstate 69, Rosen, 48, also has the countywide responsibility of serving juvenile and mental health warrants and of overseeing environmental investigations and animal cruelty cases. The Democratic incumbent has put a strong emphasis on training and community relationships. For example, when Houstonians marched downtown to protest police brutality and in support of racial equality, Rosen spoke to the crowd about the shared pain felt by communities and law enforcement officers.

Constable, Precinct 2: Christopher (Chris) Diaz

Our choice is the incumbent Christopher (Chris) Diaz, a former mayor and councilman in Jacinto City.

Constable, Precinct 3: Dan Webb

Incumbent Preinct 3 Constable Ken Jones is retiring and residents of Harris County would do well to cast their ballots for Republican Dan Webb, who currently holds a Department of Public Safety Commission as a Special Ranger and has 33 active-duty years of law enforcement service. Webb promises to fix the “good ol boy” promotion system at this precinct, which encompasses Channelview, Huffman, Crosby and Highlands and part of the Northshore communities.

Constable, Precinct 4: Jeff McGowen

If Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman, a Republican, worked in the private sector, he would have been fired for the evidence room scandal that occurred on his watch. This race should be viewed as an opportunity to remove a politician who has failed at a job and elect a replacement.

Voters in this massive precinct, which stretches across north Harris County from US 290 to Lake Houston, luckily have a qualified candidate in Jeff McGowen. The Democratic challenger is a 23-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and is a strong advocate for community policing. In a meeting with the editorial board, McGowen, 46, offered proposals on improved training and greater coordination between precincts.

Constable, Precinct 6: Richard “Rick” Gonzales

Silvia Treviño isn’t asking anyone to call her madre, but students of Texas history should see reflections of Pa and Ma Ferguson – the unfortunate tag-team husband and wife Texas governors – in this race for Precinct 6 Constable.

Silvia’s husband, former Precinct 6 Constable Victor Treviño, is currently on probation for spending charity dollars at a Louisiana casino and faces newfound scrutiny for running an evidence room that had not been cleaned out or organized during his 26 years. Now Silvia is running to take her husband’s former position and defeated incumbent Precinct 6 Constable Heliodoro Martinez in the Democratic primary.

It is time to make a full break and elect someone new.

Constable, Precinct 8: Phil Sandlin

Incumbent Phil Sandlin is the right man to be constable of this southeast precinct that borders the Houston Ship Channel and includes NASA and many large chemical complexes.

I’m not going to argue with any of the Chron’s endorsement choices. There are a lot of less-than-inspiring candidates on the ballot, though thankfully my own Precinct 1 is in a much better place than it was four years ago. I think the Chron’s litany of complaints about the function and role of the Constable in Harris County deserves attention. We are going to be electing a new County Judge in 2018, and I hope we will also have a spirited race for County Commissioner Precinct 2. Both of these present an opportunity to have a discussion about the role of the Constables, among other things. If we want things to be different we can make it so, but it’s not going to happen without an active effort.

Democratic primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Fort Bend County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Just for the record, we didn’t get any precinct results until 8:34, at which time only 8% of precincts had reported. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of overwhelming turnout this time. We did get a big batch just after 9, but thanks to some close races, Harris County results will be the last ones I write about in this post.

Grady Yarbrough cements his position as this generation’s Gene Kelly by winning the Railroad Commissioner runoff. I’ll say again, you want a decent candidate to win these downballot primaries, especially against a perennial candidate, you’re going to need some investment in those races.

On a more interesting note, first-time candidate Vicente Gonzalez won the runoff in CD15 to succeed retiring Rep. Ruben Hinojosa. Gonzalez drew support from a bunch of Congressional incumbents, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Someone at least thinks he has a bright future, so keep an eye on him.

In Bexar County, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins will succeed retiring Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon in HD120.

In fairness to Stan Stanart, the Fort Bend County result reporting was even worse. They posted some precinct results a few minutes before Harris did, then bizarrely went back to showing early votes with zero precincts in. That was still the case as of 9:45 PM, then finally at 10 PM all the results came in at once. The deservedly maligned Rep. Ron Reynolds led 59-41 after early voting, then held on for a 53-47 margin. I wonder if voters were changing their minds, or if it was just the nature of Reynolds supporters to vote early. Whatever the case, he won.

And from Harris County:

– Dakota Carter wins in SBOE6.
– Ed Gonzalez will be the nominee for Sheriff.
– Judge Elaine Palmer easily held off JoAnn Storey for the 215th Civil District Court. Kristin Hawkins had an easy win for the 11th. The closest race of the evening was in the 61st, where Fredericka Phillips nosed out Julie Countiss by 210 votes after overcoming a small early lead by Countiss.
– Eric William Carter won in JP Precinct 1, while Hilary Green held on in JP Precinct 7.
– Chris Diaz romped in Constable Precinct 2, while Sherman Eagleton cruised in Constable Precinct 3.

And finally, Jarvis Johnson won in HD139, entirely on the strength of absentee ballots. Kimberly Willis won the early in-person vote as well as the Runoff Day vote, but not by a large enough margin given the modest number of people who turned out. Johnson will have the seniority advantage over his fellow freshmen thanks to his win in the special election, but this is not the kind of result that will scare anyone off for the next cycle.

Endorsement watch: Remember the runoffs

The Chron makes their endorsements for the primary runoffs, which will happen on May 24, with early voting from the 16th to the 20th. Let me sum up:

vote-button

Republican

Member, Railroad Commissioner: Gary Gates

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2: Mary Lou Keel

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 5: Scott Walker

Democrats

Member, Railroad Commission: Cody Garrett

Member, State Board of Education, District 6: R. Dakota Carter

State Representative, District 139: Kimberly Willis

Judge, 11th Civil District Court: Kristen Hawkins

Judge, 61st Civil District Court: Fredericka Phillips

Judge, 215th Civil District Court: JoAnn Storey

Sheriff: Ed Gonzalez

Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 1: Eric William Carter

Justice of the Peace Precinct 7, Place 1: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

Constable, Precinct 2: Christopher (Chris) Diaz

Constable, Precinct 3: Sherman Eagleton

Some of these are reiterations of primary endorsements, but quite a few are new, with the original endorsed candidate not making it to the finals. I’ll post a roundup of interview and Q&A links for the races where I’ve done them tomorrow.

Runoff watch: JPs and Constables

OK, sit back and settle in, this may take awhile.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1 – Democratic

Judge Dale Gorczynski

The race to succeed retiring JP Dale Gorczynski turned out to be a bit of a barnburner. The two leading candidates, Eric William “Brother of District Judge Kyle” Carter and Tanya Makany-Rivera, finished 144 votes apart, out of over 36,000 cast. Four of the five other candidates were African-American, and there some speculation before the election that they might split the vote enough to make it hard for any of them to make it into the top two. As they combined for 40% of the total vote, with #s 3 and 4 grabbing enough votes together to beat the frontrunners, this wasn’t a crazy thought. Of interest is that Carter led Makany-Rivera by about 1,500 votes after early voting, but she wiped out nearly all of that deficit on Election Day. Whether that was the result of a better ground game on her part or an electorate that was more favorable to her turning out late rather than early is a question I can’t answer.

A good ground game is likely to be key to this and all the other runoffs we’re discussing today. The total number of voters is sure to be relatively tiny – point of reference, the 2008 runoff for JP Precint 8, Place 1 had 1,082 votes after 15,196 votes out of 23,911 ballots cast in March – so the candidate who does a better job dragging friends and neighbors back to the polls has an advantage. Both candidates received group endorsements in March – Carter got nods from the AFL-CIO and GLBT Political Caucus, while Makany-Rivera collected recommendations from the Tejano Dems and Stonewall Dems. This one looks like a tossup to me.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 1 – Democratic

Incumbent JP Hilary Green had the pleasure of facing seven challengers in March, finishing ahead of them all but with only 29.53% of the vote; Cheryl Elliot Thornton, who was a candidate for County Court at Law #2 in 2010, came in second, ten points behind. It’s been a rough term for Judge Green, between a nasty divorce and allegations of biased rulings, both of which I suspect contributed to the crowded field against her, and possibly the less-than-stellar result. Usually, an incumbent wh can’t break 30% is in deep trouble, but she does start out with a ten-point lead, and there’s no guarantee that the supporters of the other candidates will bother to come out in May. I think she’s still a slight favorite, but I wouldn’t bet any of my own money on either outcome.

Constable, Precinct 2 – Democratic

Incumbent Constable Chris Diaz led a field of four candidates with 45%; runnerup close races, but I see no reason why he’d need to sweat this one. The only curiosity to me is that several groups that endorsed in Constable races apparently declined to do so in this one, even with an incumbent on the ballot; specifically, the GLBT Political Caucus, H-BAD, and Stonewall all skipped this one, while the AFL-CIO and the Tejanos plus Area 5 supported Diaz. Anyone know what if anything is up with that? Regardless, I see this as Diaz’s race to lose.

Constable, Precinct 3 – Democratic

Another huge field (nine candidates), another office vacated by a longtime incumbent (Constable Ken Jones), and another really close finish. The top three candidates:

Sherman Eagleton – 3,687 votes, 19.87%
Michel Pappillion – 2,862 votes, 15.43%
Jasen Rabalais – 2,825 votes, 15.23%

Yep, a 37-vote difference between going on and going home. I’ve discussed this one before, as third-place finisher Rabalais has filed a lawsuit challenging the result; he has alleged that a nefarious campaign worker committed absentee ballot fraud on behalf of Pappillion. I don’t really expect anything to change in this race, but one never knows. Assuming nothing changes, Eagleton, who is a sergeant in Precinct 3, was endorsed by the Chron, while Pappillion, a retired police officer with HPD and in his native Louisiana, got the HGLBT nod; other groups either skipped this one or went with candidates who finished out of the running. I call this one a tossup because I don’t know any better.

And that’s all there is – there are no runoffs at this level on the Republican side, as only one such race (JP in Precinct 1, Place 1) drew more than two candidates. I’ve got two more of these entries to go, to look at the Democratic Sheriff race and a couple of stray GOP races. I hope this has been useful.

Endorsement watch: Latino electeds for Gene Green

Not a big surprise.

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Houston Democrat, will pick up support from several Houston political players Tuesday.

The 12-term congressman faces what could be a formidable primary challenge in the form of former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. According to a Green campaign press release, seven Houston Democrats are ready to back his re-election: state Sens. Sylvia R. Garcia and John Whitmire, state Reps. Ana Hernandez, Garnet F. Coleman, Armando Walle and Carol Alvarado, and Harris County Constable Chris Diaz.

The endorsements’ apparent aim is to give Green cover against Garcia’s argument that the mostly-Hispanic district would be better served with Hispanic congressional representation. With residual name identification from his unsuccessful run for Houston mayor, Garcia could pose a viable threat to Green’s re-election.

I received a copy of the press release as well as the pre-release on Friday that didn’t contain the officials’ names. The event will take place at 11 AM at the Vecino Health Center (Denver Harbor Family Clinic), 424 Hahlo St., in case anyone wants to attend. As I said before, I was looking to see who might be endorsing whom in this race. Whatever the effect is on the final result, this does affect the narrative of the race. Reps. Walle, Hernandez, and Alvarado all once worked for Green, so their solidarity with their former boss is to be expected, but Sylvia Garcia was one of the candidates for the seat back in 1992; she finished third, behind Green and Ben Reyes, whom Green then defeated in the runoff and again in the 1994 primary. She had previously been talked about as a potential opponent for Green in more recent years, before her election to the State Senate. Make of that what you will.

Going back through my archives, I came across this post from 2014 about Green representing a Latino district and when that might change. Here’s what Campos, who is now working on the Garcia campaign, said at the time:

Having a Dem Latino or Latina in Congress from the H-Town area would be empowering to the community. What is missing is an articulate voice for us in Congress like on a day when the immigration issue is front and center. Who is going to argue with that?

I don’t buy into the notion that just because the local Latino leaders aren’t for something, it won’t happen. I can still recall the spontaneous immigration marches a few years ago that local Latino leaders were scrambling to lead.

I can picture a scenario where an articulate bilingual Latino or Latina leader steps up, grabs an issue and captures the attention of the community. That is certainly not racist, that’s politics. This discussion isn’t going away.

And my comment on that:

Sure, that could happen, and I agree that if it were to happen it would likely be a talented newcomer who can inspire people to pose a serious threat to Rep. Green. The problem is that that’s not sufficient. Look at the recent history of Democratic primary challenges in Texas legislative races, and you’ll see that there are generally two paths to knocking off an incumbent that don’t rely on them getting hosed in redistricting. One is via the self-inflicted wounds of an incumbent with some kind of ethics problems – think Gabi Canales or Naomi Gonzales, for example – or an incumbent that has genuinely lost touch with the base. In the past decade in Texas that has mostly meant Craddick Democrats, though one could argue that Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s win over Silvestre Reyes had elements of that.

What I’m saying is simply that there has to be a reason to dump the current officeholder. Look no further than the other Anglo Texas Democrat in Congress for that. The GOP has marked Rep. Lloyd Doggett for extinction twice, each time drawing him into a heavily Latino district in the hope of seeing him get knocked off in a primary. He survived the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, then he faced the same kind of challenge again in 2012. His opponent, Sylvia Romo, was an experienced officeholder running in a district that was drawn to elect a Hispanic candidate from Bexar County. Having interviewed her, I can attest that she’d have made a perfectly fine member of Congress. But she never identified a policy item on which she disagreed with Doggett, and she never could give an answer to the question why the voters should replace their existing perfectly good member of Congress and his boatload of seniority with a rookie, however promising.

That’s the question any theoretical opponent to Gene Green will have to answer as well.

I think both my statement and Marc’s would stand up today. I’d say we’re likely to hear some form of these arguments over the next two months. In the meantime, I wonder if Garcia will roll out his own list of supporters soon. Better still if that list is accompanied by reasons why Garcia is the superior choice, and where he differs in matters of policy. I know that’s what I’d want to hear about if I lived in that district.

No time for trial in Guinn election lawsuit

I think this really is the end of the line for any actions that could affect the November 2012 ballot.

Zerick Guinn

The question of whether Chris Diaz’s 17-vote run-off victory for the Democratic Precinct 2 Constable nomination was legitimate will fade into Harris County history unresolved after a state district judge Tuesday ruled insufficient time remains before the November election to settle the issue at trial.

Precinct 2 Constable Sgt. Zerick Guinn had sought a trial in 269th state District Court to prove irregularities in a runoff that handed the primary victory to his opponent. A recount of election results still showed Diaz had won.

After hearing testimony from Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart and other election officials, visiting state District Judge Suzanne Stovall ruled that not enough time for a trial and possible appeals remained. “I hate it,” she said of her ruling, “but that’s what the law requires.”

“I feel that we could have proved the case,” Guinn’s attorney, J.W. Beverly, said after the judge’s ruling. Beverly conceded that preparation for filing the law suit had “taken longer than we had hoped.”

The suit was filed four weeks after the recount was completed. Obviously, the abnormally deferred primary and runoff schedule had an effect as well. I still don’t think anything would have come of this, but it’s a shame to have the clock run out before all the questions could be answered.

Guinn files suit over Constable Precinct 2 runoff

I doubt it’ll make any difference, but it’s his right.

Zerick Guinn

The loser of the Democratic runoff for Harris County Precinct 2 constable has sued winner Chris Diaz, contesting the election result.

Zerick Guinn said he thought a recount he requested in the race would have involved a more thorough investigation, and said he filed the suit to get the clarity he has been seeking since an Election Day mistake in the County Clerk’s office incorrectly showed him to be comfortably ahead when, in fact, he was behind. Guinn lost to Diaz by 17 votes.

“I filed it just to make sure the vote tallies were correct and that the people of the precinct get to choose who they want for constable,” Guinn said Monday. “I’m not looking for anything other than the truth.”

The Precinct 2 patrol sergeant’s suit claims some Diaz supporters were ineligible to vote, were fraudulently or improperly registered, or cast mail ballots improperly. It also alleges some of his own supporters were not allowed to vote or that their votes were not counted “as a result of fraud, illegal conduct or mistake.”

See here, here, and here for some background on the irregularities and the recount process. We’ve seen some races decided by razor-thin margins in recent years – I’m specifically thinking of the Vo/Heflin race of 2004 and the Howard/Neil race of 2010 – and despite allegations of widespread fraud and other malfeasance in each, very few actual problems were found during the election contests. Those that were found were pretty much all honest mistakes, and they generally benefited the loser about as often as they helped the winner. I’ll be quite surprised if anything is different here. As such, I tend to agree with the assessment of Diaz’s attorney Buck Wood, who said that the 17-vote margin in this race would be a tough obstacle to overcome.

Response from County Clerk to Wallach testimony about recounts

The following was sent to me in email by Hector DeLeon, the Director of Communications and Voter Outreach for Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart:

I read Dan Wallach’s report of the recount in your blog titled Diaz Still Leads After Recount. In his report he states:

There was no attempt to audit the original electronic systems, perhaps looking for unusual behavior in the original tallying systems’ logs, or perhaps comparing the in-person poll books or absentee envelopes against the number of cast votes.

What Wallach does not mention is that a reconcilation process is conducted between Election Day and the day the results are canvassed to ensure that the number of access codes printed from the JBCs at each poll match the number of signatures on a pollbook.

He also states: “So far as I could tell, the boxes that hold the JBCs have no security seals, which could have at least provided some evidence of chain-of-custody maintenance.”

Here he also fails to explain that there is a chain of custody in place from the moment that the equipment leaves the County Clerk’s possession. Additionally, he fails to say that security seals are placed on the JBC boxes when they are picked up by the presiding election judges. For Election Day equipment set up purposes, the security seals on the JBC boxes are broken in the presence of the Republican and Democratic presiding and alternate election judges at the poll. There is a form which has to be completed and signed by the presiding and alernate election judges attesting that this occurred.
 
On Election Day, after all votes are cast, in the process of closing the poll, a security seal is placed on JBC boxes before leaving the poll. Again, there is a form that needs to be completed and signed by both the presiding and atlternate election judges attesting that this ocurred.

Additionally, the slot where the mobile ballot box (MBB) is located on the JBC has a security seal. the JBCs’ MBB security seals are only broken to extract the MBB after the presiding election judges return the JBCs at the end of Election Day. At the time of delivery, each JBC is inspected to make sure the security seals are in place. Once the equipment is returned the MBB must be removed from the JBC to enable the reading of the votes. All these procedures are documented on forms which most be completed by the PJ and AJ in the conduct of adminsitering the election at each poll.

All security seals have an ID number. Those numbers are reviewed to ensure the number match on all approriate chain of custody forms.

In short, there are procedures in place to ensure the integrity of the equipment and the veracity of the number of ballots cast at each poll.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found this to be quite educational. My thanks to Hector DeLeon for the feedback.

Diaz still leads after recount

No surprise.

Former Jacinto City Mayor Chris Diaz still appears to be the Democratic nominee for Harris County Precinct 2 constable following a Monday recount in his razor-thin runoff with Precinct 2 Sgt. Zerick Guinn.

Diaz’s 17-vote margin is unofficial, county Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis said, adding the party plans to finalize the results Saturday.

Diaz actually gained a vote after the recount. Unless Guinn wants to pursue this in the courts, the matter is basically settled. Stace has more.

That’s the basic news about this. Do you know how the county handles a recount like this? I had no idea, until Dan Wallach, who wrote that guest post on Tuesday, sent me the following eyewitness account:

Dan Wallach

I was invited by the Harris County Democratic Party to be an observer of the Guinn-Diaz recount, which ran all day on Monday. This race, in the Democratic primary election, was to select the Democratic candidate for Constable, Precinct 2. There were some procedural errors during the initial tally. At one point, the two candidates were separated by all of 3 votes out of just over 11 thousand cast. By the time they included the absentee ballots, roughly 28% of all the votes in the race, the margin of victory was 16 votes.

I showed up at the recount with my camera, hoping to take lots of great pictures. Several people promptly came running at me saying that it was illegal to take pictures during a recount. (Dear lawyers who are reading this: really?) Instead, I’ll just have to do my best to describe what I did and what I saw.

For starters, Harris County uses the Hart InterCivic eSlate, a paperless electronic voting system, which stands out from other DRE-type systems by having a local network in the polling place. For each group of eSlate terminals, there’s a single controller (a “Judge Booth Controller” or JBC) that connects to the eSlates. Three copies of each vote are recorded: one in the eSlate where it was cast, one in the JBC’s internal memory, and one on a PCMCIA flash card (a “mobile ballot box” or MBB) that’s removable from the JBC. If you want to learn a lot more about the eSlate architecture and its security vulnerabilities, you might enjoy the California “Top to Bottom” report, which I co-authored in 2007.

On election night, the process is that they remove the MBBs from the JBCs and use computers to read them and tabulate the data centrally. Part of this process is for the centrally-tabulated data to then be reported on the Election Day Results webpage, or in this case, misreported. It wasn’t the tabulated results that were wrong, just the reported results. That’s another story, although it would be nice to have a detailed explanation of what went wrong.

If the initial counts were done from the MBBs, how about the recount? For this, they used the JBCs: 115 of them were sequestered for the recount, each connected individually to a single computer that copied their contents. (This computer runs Windows 2000, the only “certified” configuration available; at least there was no network connection.) All of this occurred before the recount itself began. No party or candidate representatives witnessed this part of the process. Johnnie German, the county’s administrator of elections, told me that the process took five hours and needed to be done in advance so the recount could complete on time. More on this below.

The recount was an involved process. There were three and later four tables of counters. Each table had five people. Each table gets a stack of every paper ballot for a given precinct which they then tabulate. In the case of absentee ballots, these were original, hand-marked papers. In the case of eSlate-cast ballots, these were printed on site by a laser printer from the aforementioned computer that collected JBC data. The tabulation process has one person, in the center, who picks up a ballot from the stack and reads out who got the vote. On this person’s side are two people (representing the candidates) who double check this. Across the table are two separate people who keep count. With this many eyeballs on the task, the inevitable errors are caught. When a stack of ballots was completed, everybody at the table would agree on a summary sheet, they signed it, and it came over to where I was sitting.

Our table had four people: myself, the election administrator, and one observer for each candidate. I picked up each stack of ballots and called out the precinct number and totals. The election administrator typed those numbers into an Excel spreadsheet. The observers made sure we got the numbers right.

The results? Unsurprisingly, for all the eSlate-cast votes, the hand tabulation exactly equaled the original machine tabulation. For the absentee ballots, we had one precinct with single absentee ballot that somehow didn’t show up for the recount. The election administrator made a phone call to the downtown site, where absentee ballots are kept in a vault, and arranged for somebody to go dig out that ballot and bring it back to us. (That particular ballot was an undervote, so it didn’t impact the result.) We also discovered a precinct that had an extra absentee ballot that somehow wasn’t tabulated at all in the initial machine-scanned tally. Where did it come from? Why wasn’t it counted beforehand? We don’t know. (This ballot favored Diaz, increasing his lead from 16 to 17 votes.) Otherwise, there were no discrepancies or changes to the election outcome. The process started at 8am and ended at 4pm with a one-hour lunch break.

What’s interesting is what we didn’t do in the recount. There was no attempt to audit the original electronic systems, perhaps looking for unusual behavior in the original tallying systems’ logs, or perhaps comparing the in-person poll books or absentee envelopes against the number of cast votes. We didn’t have access to the scanned ballot images, so there was no opportunity to do any sort of risk limiting audit (comparing the scanned ballot images to the physical ones to make sure they’re the same). Also, the only way to get electronic data out of a Hart InterCivic tallying system is in PDF format (example results). There is no way to get all the raw data in a format that’s convenient to bring back into a computer for subsequent analysis.

As I mentioned above, the JBCs’ data was downloaded in advance, giving us no opportunity to observe this process. So far as I could tell, the boxes that hold the JBCs have no security seals, which could have at least provided some evidence of chain-of-custody maintenance. Absentee ballots, for contrast, are transported in plastic tubs with numbered plastic security seals, and there’s a process for documenting those numbers when the seals are broken. A corresponding process for JBCs would be a good idea to adopt.

I’m also a bit sad that we didn’t have a counting scale that we could use in the recount. In addition to enabling clever audits, we could have used them to simply double check the number of papers in each stack of ballots. Apparently the election warehouse does have one, but we weren’t allowed to use it, even to double check our manual tallies. (Dearest election lawyers: really?)

One lesson from this is that political candidates understand the concept of a recount, and there’s plenty of election code that talks about what a recount entails. What’s less clear is how well the election code can bend to support the idea of audits. Printing sheets of paper corresponding to electronically cast ballot records, then counting them by hand, is both wasteful of resources and unlikely to discover anything valuable. Instead, I’d like to see counties offer a menu of options (at different prices, of course) to the candidate requesting a recount. A candidate might then choose to pay for a full tally of absentee ballots and for various audits to reconcile the totals. If a candidate wanted to double-check a sample of the eSlates, to make sure they had the same votes as in the election night tallies, that should be easy and cheap to do.

Another important lesson is that future voting systems (electronic or otherwise) need to be explicitly engineered with recounts and other sorts of audits at the core of their functionality. Of course, we also want the sorts of voter verifiability security properties that DRE systems like the eSlate lack, but this experience made it clear to me that we have a lot of room to improve basic recounting and auditing procedures. At the end of the day, the goal is to convince the losing candidate that he or she genuinely lost. I don’t know whether this particular candidate was convinced.

So now we know, and I thank Dan for the detailed information. I like the suggestions about enabling audits and giving candidates different choices for how to conduct recounts. What do you think?

Diaz has larger lead in Constable Precinct 2 race

Sixteen votes. Hey, it counts.

After provisional ballots were tallied Tuesday, [Chris] Diaz’s tally stands at 2,078, while [Zerick] Guinn’s is at 2,062, said Jill Moffitt, Democratic judge of the central count.

“I’m glad that they’ve finally come up with the final resolution,” Diaz said, thanking his supporters and volunteers. “I’m very happy with the final count and, hopefully, everything will work out in the future. We’ll move on the November election and see how we can fare in that.”

That’s up from the three-vote lead Diaz had after the County Clerk finally posted the correct tallies on Wednesday morning. It was pretty clear that the provisional ballots would be good news for Diaz.

Chris Diaz

Monday the Democratic ballot board met to determine which of the overseas ballots and provisional ballots cast on Election Day should be tallied. Tuesday those votes will be counted, along with GOP results (though no Republican races are nearly as close as Guinn and Diaz’s).

Of the 118 Democratic provisional ballots examined, said ballot board chair John Behrman, 92 were accepted. Of those, said former County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia — who was in attendance as a poll watcher on Diaz’s behalf — 16 were determined to be cast by Precinct 2 voters.

And of those 16, 14 appear to have been cast in and around Jacinto City, Diaz’s base.

“I would assume that they are his voters, but I could be wrong, you never know,” said Guinn, who remained upbeat. “Everyone who voted, who supported me or my opponent, I’m excited that they’ll have an opportunity to be excited about who they chose in the race. What’s important to me is that people’s votes count.”

Indeed, though there are still some questions to be answered about that. Be that as it may, the results will be canvassed on Thursday, then it’s up to Guinn to decide whether or not to pursue things further. For now, it looks like Chris Diaz has won the runoff and will be the Democratic nominee for Constable in Precinct 2 in November.

Now you see those votes, now you don’t

Tuesday was not a good day for the County Clerk.

Zerick Guinn went to bed late Tuesday, believing he had won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 2 constable by a comfortable margin. By morning, he had lost the race by three votes.

An incorrect vote tally in that race, posted for more than two and a half hours on the Harris County Clerk’s website, was one of several problems that plagued Tuesday’s runoff elections.

[…]

Stanart acknowledged he and his staff did not catch that the posted tallies were wrong. He spoke with Guinn Wednesday morning and the two have scheduled a meeting Thursday. The problem arose, Stanart said, in merging two databases of data from the machines that tally the votes to the machine that produces a report of the results.

In Guinn’s race, the clerk’s website showed him leading Chris Diaz 2,695 votes to 1,908 votes shortly after 10 p.m. When final results were posted at 12:43 a.m., however, Guinn’s reported vote total dropped by 634 votes, placing him three votes behind Diaz, at 2,064 to 2,061.

Stanart said he saw problems in a not-yet-published report of GOP results shortly before midnight, and began running both parties’ results from scratch. Stanart said he initially thought the problem was isolated to the report he had just run on the computer he was using, and, thus, did not pull the faulty numbers off the county website and did not inform Democrats because their numbers were being generated by a different computer.

By late Wednesday, Stanart said, he had learned both parties’ results online from 10:12 p.m. until at least 12: 43 a.m., were wrong, though he stressed only the outcome of Guinn’s race had changed.

The early version of this story is on Houston Politics. The Chron reported the wrong result based on that 10:12 PM update, as did I. You can see the erroneous 10:12 PM update here, and the 12:43 AM update here. While only the Guinn-Diaz race outcome was affected, it wasn’t the only one to show funny numbers. This is what you would have seen on the Democratic results page Tuesday night and Wednesday morning:

A new version of the results as of 4:01 PM fixed that error. I called the Clerk’s office prior to that to ask about this, and they assured me that they were aware of it and that it was the result of the same problem that was in the Constable race. They also told me that the error occurred not in the counting of the votes but in the reporting. That agrees with what Stanart says in the Chron story, so there you have it.

Regardless, these are still unofficial results until the HCDP canvasses them. In the meantime, there are still provisional ballots and some overseas ballots to be counted, so given the extreme closeness of the race, the outcome is still in doubt. A recount and more litigation are possible as well. Campos and Stace have more.

UPDATE: PDiddie adds on.

Precinct 2 Constable runoff overview

The Chron does an overview on one of the two Democratic Constable runoffs.

Zerick Guinn

The Democratic runoff for Harris County Precinct 2 constable asks voters to decide which type of experience they value more: law enforcement chops or time as a public administrator.

The 10 Democrats who sought the open Precinct 2 seat, created when incumbent Gary Freeman announced his retirement, have been whittled to two, with Precinct 2 Patrol Sgt. Zerick Guinn and former Jacinto City mayor and Precinct 3 reserve deputy Chris Diaz still standing.

Chris Diaz

The winner of their July 31 runoff, for which early voting starts Monday, will face Republican Chris McDonald, a Baytown police lieutenant, in November. Precinct 2 runs along the west side of the Gulf Freeway before hooking north, straddling the Houston Ship Channel between Loop 610 and Beltway 8.

Guinn, who has held five roles during his 16 years with the precinct, took 33 percent of the vote in the May primary to Diaz’s 17 percent.

[…]

Freeman called both candidates “good guys,” but he has endorsed Diaz, noting that he approached him first. Freeman said Diaz stands the best chance of retaining the seat in a precinct that is now 65 percent Latino.

Unlike outgoing Constable Freeman, the Chron did not see fit to make an endorsement in this race, as you can see from their complete list of endorsements. Why they skipped this race after picking up the HCDE and CD07 runoffs is something I can’t explain. I don’t live in Precinct 2 and I don’t know much about these candidates, so I have no opinion on this race; if you live here, please leave a comment about who’s getting your vote and why. I will note that as far as Freeman’s comment about “retaining the seat” is concerned, Precinct 2 is pretty solidly Democratic; according to Greg’s Political Almanac, Bill White got 58.3% of the vote in 2010, and Rick Noriega got 60.2% in 2008. If this race is close in November, it’s been a very good day for Republicans.