Dutton, who has long represented House District 142 in northeast Houston, already faced a formidable challenger in Houston City Council Member Jerry Davis. However, the only female name on the ballot is what's raising eyebrows.
"When you're leading, you're never at a disadvantage," said Dutton, "But I think there are a lot of questions about what happened in this election.
A person named Natasha Ruiz finished with 20 percent of the vote on election day, without ever mounting a campaign. On Wednesday, ABC13 called the woman's phone number filed with the Texas Ethics Commission on her campaign treasurer appointment. The woman who answered the phone said her name is Natasha Demming, that she never ran for office and that she is a truck driver living in Colorado.
Demming said she has not lived in Houston for years. She is registered to vote at her elderly mother's home. Demming said she has no idea why anyone would sign her up to run for office.
Ruiz received 2,597 votes, or just 20 percent of the votes. Dutton finished first with 45 percent and Davis made it into the runoff with 25 percent.
"We have never seen them, we never talked to them, they never showed up, they never had a sign. They don't seem to be a real person," said Dutton.
Davis didn't disagree with Dutton's assessment.
"I ran my race, I saw her name, Ms. Natasha Ruiz," said Davis. "I have not had an opportunity to meet her, or see her at any of the events. No signs in the yard, nothing."
On Thursday, we obtained the candidate filing documents from the Harris County Democratic Party. Those documents show Natasha Demming Ruiz listing her occupation as a "teacher." She paid the filing fee of $750 in cash. Since she filed on the last day of eligibility, Dec. 9th, 2019, the Democratic Party said it was hectic with many candidates and no picture of her was taken.
The signature of Ruiz on the Treasurer document is markedly different than the candidate filing document. The filing document is always notarized, and filers have to swear to its accuracy.
We then went to the home address listed by Ruiz on both filing and treasurer documents. Nobody answered the door when we knocked. A short while later, a man who visited went into the home and shut the door, refusing to talk. Neighbors confirmed they saw the Demming Ruiz person, and her mother, at the home this week.
It is unclear what can be done at this point, though Dutton said he is considering filing legal action or contacting the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
Both Dutton and Davis said they are prepared to run in the runoff and win, regardless of whether this ghost candidate is real or not.
The Harris County Democratic Party said its records show a Natasha Ruiz came into the office to file paperwork to run. ABC13 has not had a chance to examine the documents, but we have requested a copy.
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