November 09, 2004
Election challenges

Now that we've established that Kristen Mack was correct regarding an election challenge being decided in the House rather than in the courts, I'm starting to find out more about how that process might work if Talmadge Heflin goes that route. A commenter in this Burnt Orange post gives some background on a challenge in the 1994 election which sent Arlene Wohlgemuth to the Lege. Here are some details on that case.

Wohlgemuth became chairwoman of the Johnson County Republican Party in 1992 and helped Bernard Erickson become the first state Republican representative elected from Johnson County since Reconstruction.

But after only one term in the Texas House, and mere days before the filing deadline for a second term, Erickson switched to the Democratic Party and announced his bid for re-election.

Wohlgemuth scrambled to find a strong enough candidate to run against Erickson. [Rep. Joe] Barton recalls discussing various possibilities with her, only for Wohlgemuth to dismiss each of his suggested candidates.

"What about me?" she finally asked.

"You're crazy," Barton replied.

Barton recalls telling Wohlgemuth he'd support her bid for the Texas House, but that she needed to fully consider what she was getting into.

"You can't just run to look good, you've got to run to win," the congressman told Wohlgemuth. "It's 18-20 hours a day, six days a week . . . and you're going to have to do it for six months, and if you're real lucky, you might win.' "

Wohlgemuth did run, and won, but Erickson went down only after a ferocious fight. Following a ballot count that found just 118 votes separating the two, Erickson called for a recount. After Wohlgemuth came out ahead again, he called for an election contest, which put the case before a 9-member special state House committee in what was then a Democrat-dominated chamber.

"I think Bernard thought that if he could get it back down there in the hands of his Democratic cronies that they'd hand him the election back," Wohlgemuth said. "And it didn't work that way."

The process cost Wohlgemuth $142,000 in legal bills after she'd spent $82,000 on the election, and Erickson took depositions from more than 250 people in his attempt at re-election.

I really hope it doesn't come to this. This is another reason why Andy Taylor's wild allegations about the vote-counting process being untrustworthy are so insidious. It's not just over-the-top rhetoric, it's a test-drive of strategy for a possible challenge.

Of course, Heflin may not go that route. And he is absolutely entitled to a recount, just as Vo would have been had the result been reversed. Asking his buddies in the Lege to consider overruling 20,000+ voters, though, is not something he should feel entitled to.

If you have any further information about the Wohlgemuth-Erickson challenge or any others, please drop me a note or leave me a comment. Thanks.

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

Have the recount. When Vo wins again, Heflin should just give up the ghost. If Heflin wins the recount, things get messy, however. Then the committee approach appears to have some merit.

And then there's the "perfect majority theorem" --

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on November 9, 2004 7:50 PM

Hmm. It seems to me I remember a lot of shouting in 2000 about votes that had been counted, and recounted, and recounted...

Seriously, in this case, I have confidence that, thanks in part to a lot of pressure on the County Clerk's office to get it right, every effort was made to accomplish a fair count yesterday. And yes, I would have said the same thing if the outcome had favored Heflin, which I halfway expected would be the case.

If Heflin is entitled to a recount, by all means let him have one... under the same strict conditions as the one just held. But each successive count is intrinsically less trustworthy than the previous. To my mind, as more days and possibly weeks pass between the election and the count, there are more opportunities for people to "find" additional votes. I have my own ideas about who might do so... hey, I'm unashamedly partisan, and I've had a bit of experience... but human nature is such that some unscrupulous figure from either party might attempt suddenly to "discover" votes. Obviously, Republicans, as they control the County Clerk's office, have the best opportunity to bring such votes into the process.

But let's presume the best. Assume another fair count is made. Assume further, for the sake of argument, that Vo again wins by a handful of votes. If Andy Taylor actually contests the election and throws the resolution of it into the House, and if a House committee resolves matters in favor of Heflin, consider the consequences: no Democrat in Harris County... hell, no Democrat in Texas... will ever trust the electoral process again. Any Republican who thinks this would be an acceptable or even desirable result is just not thinking clearly.

Posted by: Steve Bates on November 9, 2004 8:16 PM

It's not just that no Democrat would ever trust the process again. For one thing, the GOP in Harris County would lose thousands of Asian voters to the Democratic party. There would be a real groundswell against Beverly Kaufman - fair or unfair she would be the target of anger. It's hard to imagine that thinking things through, the Speaker would really want to go that route. I say, do the recount first. If Talmadge is behind, he should concede.

Posted by: cletus on November 9, 2004 9:49 PM

""You're Crazy," Barton replied."

This is the first time i find myself agreeing with Joe Barton

Posted by: Tek_XX on November 9, 2004 10:10 PM

Here's the panel's decision in 1994-1995 on the Erickson / Wohlegemuth race. I got it emailed to me today and posted on it here:

By Junell H.R. No. 285
74R6378 GGS-D
1-1 WHEREAS, Proceedings were initiated by Bernard Erickson to
1-2 contest the election of Arlene Wohlgemuth to the office of state
1-3 representative, District 58; and
1-4 WHEREAS, Pursuant to Chapter 241, Election Code, Speaker
1-5 James E. "Pete" Laney appointed a master of discovery for the
1-6 election contest on December 21, 1994, and a Select Committee on
1-7 Election Contest on December 21, 1994, to begin consideration of
1-8 the contest; and
1-9 WHEREAS, Pursuant to Chapter 241, Election Code, Speaker
1-10 James E. "Pete" Laney appointed a master of discovery and a Select
1-11 Committee on Election Contest on January 11, 1995, to continue
1-12 consideration of the contest; and
1-13 WHEREAS, On February 14, 1995, after a public hearing the
1-14 committee found by a vote of 9 to 0 that in the matter of the
1-15 election contest for District 58 the contestant did not by clear
1-16 and convincing evidence establish that the outcome of the contested
1-17 election, as shown by the final canvass, was not the true outcome
1-18 because of any ground prescribed by Chapter 221, Election Code; and
1-19 WHEREAS, On February 27, 1995, pursuant to Section 241.017,
1-20 Election Code, a written statement of withdrawal signed by the
1-21 contestant was filed with the chairman of the committee and the
1-22 speaker of the house of representatives; now, therefore, be it
1-23 RESOLVED, That the contestant's statement of withdrawal of
1-24 the election contest be read into the journal, as required by law;
2-1 and, be it further
2-2 RESOLVED, That the Select Committee on Election Contest and
2-3 the master of discovery appointed to assist the committee be
2-4 discharged and that the committee need not make further report to
2-5 this house; and, be it further
2-6 RESOLVED, That pursuant to Section 241.025, Election Code,
2-7 each party to the election contest bear the party's own costs, and
2-8 that this house bear the costs of the proceedings of the master of
2-9 discovery and the committee, and that the contestant's security for
2-10 costs be returned to the contestant; and, be it further
2-11 RESOLVED, That Arlene Wohlgemuth be continued in office as a
2-12 member of the house of representatives for District 58, 74th
2-13 Legislature.

Posted by: Byron L on November 10, 2004 2:32 AM

I'll be shocked if there's a recount (which likely will not favor Heflin) and it goes to the House. Mack overplayed that possibility, in my view.

If I'm wrong about it -- Heflin loses the recount but pursues a House solution -- then I'll buy folks who want to email me a round of beers and toast Mack's wisdom. Obviously, I don't think I'm going to be buying any of you beers or toasting Mack's wisdom.

Indeed, I think we only get the House option if a recount favors Heflin (as binkley suggests). At that point, it's just a mess. But I really don't think we're headed there.

Incidentally, the Chron should be embarrassed that Casey piece ran. Any quality newspaper would be. But that's not what we have in this town. More on that later, elsewhere (of course).

Posted by: kevin whited on November 10, 2004 10:05 AM