Officials work out how to handle election mix-up

July 17, 2012 3:46:05 PM PDT
Hundreds of Harris County voters who went to the polls in May not have had their voices heard during the primary election, all because of a big mix-up. An emergency meeting was held discussing the problem and how to move forward.

There was a lot of finger pointing during the meeting over the election screw-up. Now the Department of Education and the County Attorney's offices are trying to figure out how to fix it.

"It's the Harris County Department of Education's responsibility to send the right lines up," said Jared Woodfill, Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. "They didn't. It didn't get caught. So a mistake was made."

Gerry Birnberg, the former chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, said, "I hate to use this term, but incompetence by the Tax Assessor-Collector's Office means that the elections which have taken place are invalid."

The board discussed the problem, at length, behind closed doors Tuesday afternoon. This election controversy's centered on the county's failure to update some boundary lines for ballots used back in the May primary. The problem ultimately impacts the Harris County Department of Education trustee races for Districts 4 and 6.

On Monday the Department of Education was alerted about the violation, which resulted in 1,400 people not being able to cast votes and 870 people who did cast votes, who should not have been able to.

After Tuesday's meeting, county leaders told us it's likely the Federal Voting Rights Act was violated.

"We are seeking swift remedy to the situation," said Harris County Department of Education President Angela Chestnut.

Terence O'Rourke, First Assistant County Attorney, explained, "We want to have a lawful election. Already a mistake by Harris County, we have appeared to have violated significant federal laws. So the question is, how do you cure that? What's the best way to fix this?"

The assistant county attorney told us it's likely all sides will agree to take this election issue to federal court and let that judge decide how to make the results lawful.

This could be a simple solution if it happens quickly, rather than dragging out in court, costing more taxpayer money and more time. But the clock is ticking, since the early voting for the run-off election begins on July 23 in this district.

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