May election botched by district boundary mix-up

July 30, 2012 4:57:32 PM PDT
We've learned that not everyone in Harris County got to have their voice heard in May's primary election.

Because of a mix-up with the new district boundaries, not everyone who was qualified to vote in a school trustee race was able to and some voters who weren't supposed to, were allowed to cast a ballot. And the implications of all this may be far reaching.

There are a lot of lawyers looking at this problem and a lot of concerns about possible federal lawsuits by disenfranchised voters. We are just two weeks away from the runoff election between Democrats for county school trustee Position 6, and no one knows if it will count, or in fact, whether the primary counted in the first place.

When voters cast their ballots in two weeks in a number of run off races, one may still be in limbo. But while deciding the race between political newcomer Erica S. Lee and former city council member Jarvis Johnson for Harris County school trustee Position 6 is important, First Assistant County Attorney Terry O'Rourke is worried about something bigger.

"One person, one vote and it just didn't happen," he said.

O'Rourke and the office is now scrambling to find a solution to a big districting mistake. According to a letter by outgoing Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners, the Harris County Department of Education trustee district lines were not updated for the May primary. In fact, each precinct was about 100,000 people off. An analysis of the Lee-Johnson race, Sumners writes, shows almost 1,400 people did not vote who should have and 872 people did who should not have.

"It's a big mess and we're trying to figure out a way to solve it in the most simple, elegant way possible," O'Rourke said.

While there is plenty of finger-pointing about who's to blame, Sumners has apologized. Both political parties have been asked to be at a meeting with O'Rourke Tuesday to talk about how to move forward.

"The question becomes would it make a difference in the results and if not, do we just go forward with the runoff as it is, or do we start all over?" Harris County Republican Party Chair Jared Woodfill said.

Each has his own opinion all agree it will cost money and no one wants to deny a voter his right.

"That is my biggest concern, to make sure people have the right to participate in the electoral process," Harris County Democratic Party Chair Lane Lewis said.

Neither Jarvis Johnson nor Erica Lee responded to our request for comment. The county attorney's office is clear that this isn't about the candidates or political parties rather about voters. It's likely this issue will end up in court.

There are lot of meetings scheduled for Tuesday and we'll be watching for developments.

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