November 09, 2004
Vo wins!

We have a winner, pending any recounts or other challenges.

With the last votes finally counted late Monday, Democratic newcomer Hubert Vo nudged Republican incumbent Talmadge Heflin out of the Texas House of Representatives seat he has held for 22 years by a 31-vote margin.

According to the official canvass, Vo garnered 20,693 votes, compared with 20,662 for Heflin.

Heflin supporters, however, immediately indicated the powerful Republican would challenge the results of the two-day canvass by the Harris County Clerk's office.

"There's no confidence in these results at this point," said Andy Taylor, a Republican legal troubleshooter with expertise in election law, who was on hand to represent Heflin. "The outcome can't be trusted because the process was flawed."

Taylor said poll watchers cited a discrepancy in the way votes were being counted and excluded. The difference of 31 votes is so small that any slight irregularity could change the race, he said.

Heflin's camp is expected to meet this morning to make a decision about what to do next.

Let me state first of all that I'm predisposed to dislike Andy Taylor, the lawyer who successfull defended the odious redistricting plan. It didn't help that he came off as an arrogant jerk on the 6 o'clock news last night, either. (Yes, I know, he's just zealously defending his client. He still came off as a jerk.) I'd just like to know which part of the process he finds so untrustworthy. Is it the electronic voting machines, which were bought by our Republican County Clerk, who testifies to their robustness in their marketing literature? Is it the counting of the provisional and absentee ballots, for which Team Heflin had a dozen witnesses? Or is it just the very thought that all those people would have the nerve to vote for Hubert Vo?

With more than 41,000 votes cast in last week's general election, Vo entered the canvass Sunday clinging to a 38-vote lead over Heflin and then sweated out hundreds of absentee and provisional ballots Monday night to claim the District 149 seat.

But the count is far from over.

Heflin still can request a recount of electronic votes. He also could contest the election, which would throw the jurisdiction to the state House to make a ruling. If it comes to that, Heflin would appear to have an advantage, with the House consisting of 88 Republicans and 62 Democrats.

What exactly does it mean that "contesting the election" would "throw the jurisdiction to the state House to make a ruling"? Why wouldn't a challenge go to the courts, as was the case in the CD28 Democratic primary? There's probably a provision in the state's election laws; I haven't checked yet. It still doesn't make sense to me, because I can't see how letting an obviously partisan body like the House resolve its own election disputes could possibly be considered a good idea. If it does go to the State House and they vote along straight party lines to award the election to Heflin, why should anyone have any faith in that?

The count of the absentee and provisional ballots began Sunday and ended just before midnight Monday.

There were 27 valid provisional votes counted in the district race. Fourteen went to Vo and 9 to Heflin. The other four did not cast a vote in the district contest.

Neither of the candidates appeared at a county election office in north Houston where the count took place.

Vo's campaign admittedly was sweating the outcome of the mail-in ballots, which historically have favored Republicans. Seventy-five percent of the early vote went to Heflin.

The original tally, on the Secretary of State page, had Vo leading 20,584 to 20,532. The County Clerk page had it at 20,596 to 20,558. Adding in the provisionals makes it 20,610 to 20,567. That means the absentee ballots split 83 for Vo and 95 for Heflin.

I don't know what will happen next. Heflin has until next Wednesday, November 17, to ask for a recount. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take some further action, but I hope he doesn't. Hubert Vo worked his butt off, and he deserved to win. Thank you for your service, Talmadge Heflin. I have every confidence Hubert Vo will build on it to achieve greater successes in the future.

UPDATE: Two items of clarification. First, I agree completely with Sarah's second comment. If Andy Taylor has "no confidence" in the count as performed by the Harris County Clerk in front of 24 witnesses, then he owes us some actual evidence that his lack of confidence is justified. Simply stating that the process was flawed is irresponsible and designed to cast doubt on what happened.

Second, regarding Heflin's option to contest the election, I believe the statutes on election law, in particular Chapter 221 and Chapter 241, apply here. One should not disbelieve everything one reads in the Chron, especially when one can check it out. It would have been nice of Kristin Mack to check with an election law specialist to explain that bit in some nice, understandable detail (and as I Am Not A Lawyer, I could be totally misrepresenting what I'm reading here), but it looks to me like she has conveyed accurate information.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 09, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

And something like 20 of the absentee ballots that were not counted as of last week (the county clerk had reported there were 198) must have been disqualified. If Taylor thinks those 20 votes affect the election, then he needs some remedial math. (Perhaps he means votes disqualified Tuesday night?, when Kaufman's office suspended counting - I believe I read that she wrote in a letter to the SOS that the suspension was done at Heflin's request)

OTOH something like 180 provisional ballots were reported to have been in the vault related to this race, of which apparently 27 were accepted.
But those that were accepted broke for Vo.

Tina Benkiser was in the fray, noting that Democratic interference was casting a 'pall' over the election. Sounds to me like they are gearing up the rhetoric in order to try to cast a pall over Hubert Vo. I guess we continue to wait and see...

Posted by: Sarah Berel-Harrop on November 9, 2004 8:10 AM

Come on folks, whether you like Andy Taylor or not isn't really salient, is it?

Whether you're a Dem or a Republican or a Libertarian or whatever, I don't think you can begrudge anyone who loses by a couple dozen votes his right under election law to request a recount. I don't think it's going to change anything because Harris County does run a pretty good voting operation, but surely the stalwarts of the democratic process who frequent this blog can't object to a recount if Heflin decides to request one in such a close race.

Yes, partisan tension is high and dumb things get said. The GOP hardly has a monopoly on dumb political things that are said at tense times!

Finally, this isn't going to go to the state house, and I can't imagine why anyone would say otherwise. Breathe deep, don't hyperventilate, and SURELY don't believe everything you read in the Chron! Especially when Kristen Mack's name is attached. She's a p!ss poor substitute for John Williams.

And no, Sarah, it's really not an evil GOP conspiracy to "cast a pall" over Vo. Again, breathe deep, and let the process work. It's a tight election, and folks on the apparent losing side ought not be tagged as evil for wanting to make sure they've lost. Everyone should just chill and see how it plays out. If there's a recount, I fully expect that to be it, and the loser to concede graciously. If not, then I'll join the hyperventilation. But it's too early for that now.

Posted by: kevin whited on November 9, 2004 8:33 AM

Heflin got his recount. It was conducted by our extremely partisan Republican county clerk who, to her credit, "dotted the i's and crossed the t's" ... that's a verbal quote from Vo's campaign manager, Karen Loper, who generally has little reason to praise Beverly Kauffman, but the sentiment seems to be consensus among those present: this recount was performed properly.

The recount was reportedly observed by a dozen witnesses from each side. How anyone could have rigged the recount is beyond me. Let's be honest: Heflin's complaint isn't really about process; it's about the fact that he lost.

Posted by: Steve Bates on November 9, 2004 8:54 AM

Indeed, the consensus seems to be that Harris Co. elections administrators, under intense scrutiny, conducted the counting of mail-in and provisional ballots by the book.

Once the (Rick Perry appointed) Secretary of State rebuked Harris Co. Clerk Beverly Kaufman last Thursday for trying to do a quick count that afternoon "at the urging of Mr. Heflin," she and her staff came to their senses and did their jobs.

As for the possibility that House Speaker Tom Craddick and his lawyer Andy Taylor will now try to get this into the Texas House to decide, don't count out that possibility. That's probably why Taylor is publicly impugning the process.

Look for them to forego a recount (because it would undermine their case to recount the ballots and arrive at the same result) and take their chances in the ultra-partisan Texas House, instead.

Posted by: Embree Timlin on November 9, 2004 9:52 AM

Steve, this was not a recount but a counting of the absentee and provisional ballots. Heflin will likely ask for a recount which given the slim margin of victory for Vo would be prudent and wholey understandable.

Beyond that he could contest the election, which frankly I don't see happening.

I agree with Kevin that anyone who thinks this will end up in the state house has had a little too much "conspriacy Kool-aid". Let's just relax, we have just a few more steps to take to finalize the process as it is written in election law.

Posted by: Patrick on November 9, 2004 9:58 AM

Being new to Texas politics, I'm not quite sure how the legislature would overturn the election. I expect that they are required to certify in some manner the result and seat the winner. But that sort of abuse of power seems rather beyond the pale.

Wouldn't the Democrats have the right to shut the place down again by just leaving the state and denying a quorum? How would that play in the national media? Seems that the Republicans would get severely spanked by trying to pull such a stunt. It's one thing to try something like redistricting, which frankly is over the heads of 50% of the population. It's another entirely to try to put the loser in an election back into power. All voters of all persuastions can understand the illegitimacy of such an action.

Maybe some rich Democrats like Soros ought to build a permanent retreat in New Mexico for democratic legislators in exile

Posted by: Kent on November 9, 2004 10:01 AM

No, I don't "begrudge" Heflin asking for a recount. I think that is right and proper. I do think moaning about the unfairness of the process is calculated to cast the results in doubt, and that regardless of the results of the recount it tends to cast the results in doubt.

Hubert and Karen have consistently said to trust that the process will be conducted fairly. I do. I would like Mr. Taylor to be specific about the irregularities he alleges. Specifically how many ballots does he believe were unfairly rejected and why? Specifically how many ballots does he think were unfairly accepted and why? Rather than make vague statements that the process was unfair, and Ms. Benkiser also stated that the process was improper, make specific charges that can be confirmed or rebutted. That is what I mean by casting a pall over the results: making vague, unsubstantiable charges tends to reduce voters' confidence in the electoral process. Don't misrepresent what I said.

Posted by: Sarah Berel-Harrop on November 9, 2004 10:28 AM

That is what I mean by casting a pall over the results: making vague, unsubstantiable charges tends to reduce voters' confidence in the electoral process. Don't misrepresent what I said.

Sarah, not to pick on you in particular but given the intimations that the Harris county GOP was out to steal this elections that were breathlessly reported on the Burnt Orange Report, I'd say there's been enough pall flinging this week by folks of all political ilk to last us until the next election cycle.

We are in violent agreement in our belief that the process will be conducted fairly and I have the utmost confidence that proper winner will prevail once all the prudent legal steps have been taken.

Posted by: Patrick on November 9, 2004 12:48 PM

Given that the vote total changed three times after Midnight on Tuesday, I'd say the Democrats in Houston had a pretty good reason to suspect someone was stealing this election.

Tell me, does 100% mean the same thing in Republican circles as it does in Democratic ones? I saw Hubert win by 110 votes, then, at 1 AM, saw his lead shrink to 52, then at 4:30 AM, saw it shrink to 38. Feel free to call Bev Kaufman to confirm, and ask here who exactly was counting votes in the early morning?

For Andy Taylor to say the process over the past 2 days was anything but the most closely watched count by both sides is flat out wrong. To say, "We'd like a recount. It's close and we think it is worth it." is one thing.

Looking at what he actually said is something altogether. In this case, Taylor has the complete monopoly on saying stupid things. Maybe he should take a civics leason from Hubert Vo, who all along said he believed in Democracy.

Posted by: Red Dog on November 9, 2004 1:44 PM

As someone who was standing two feet from Andy Taylor last night when Kristin Mack asked him if they would bypass the recount process and proceed directly to a contest in the House, his answer was a vague and equivocating "Yes."

As someone who was also involved in the poll-watching process, I can tell you it went very smoothly, except for the several instances when Heflin's poll watchers had to be rebuked by Republican presiding judge for trying to influence and intimidate the ballot board members. One man was nearly asked to leave. The rules were clear, no speaking to ballot board members, and Heflin's people didn't follow the rules.

He lost. He should stop whining like Al Gore and just accept the result.

Posted by: cletus on November 9, 2004 3:36 PM