November 11, 2004
Will Heflin challenge his loss to Vo?

Andy Taylor, lawyer for Talmadge Heflin, is still being cagey regarding strategy to cope with Heflin's electoral loss to Hubert Vo.

Because of the narrow margin, Heflin and his attorney were still considering late Tuesday whether to ask for a recount, and perhaps for the 150-member, Republican-dominated House to review the balloting to make sure that the election was carried out legally. The deadline for requesting a recount is Nov. 20.

"We are vigorously pursuing all of our options," said Andy Taylor, a former Texas assistant attorney general who specializes in election law. "We have not yet made a decision as to whether we will, in fact, seek a recount. But we are gathering information to make a fully informed decision."

Taylor said that observers hired by the Heflin campaign to watch the final vote counting Sunday and Monday questioned whether some legally cast ballots were discarded and whether illegally cast ballots had been counted.

Taylor said Heflin has not ruled out asking the full House to nullify the election results, which would force Gov. Rick Perry to order a second election early next year.

"Let me make clear that at this moment, we are only focusing on whether to seek a recount," Taylor said.

"I can't speculate on anything beyond that."

The question then becomes what would House Republicans do if a formal challenge was made?

"Republicans in the House are stuck between losing their best and most qualified budget guy and looking like they're trying to steal an election," said Ross Ramsey, the editor of the political newsletter Texas Weekly, which tracks Texas politics. "And if Heflin wasn't such an important part of the budget machinery over there, I don't think they would risk this fight."

But, without a strong contender to replace Heflin as chair of the powerful House budget-writing committee and facing another tough budget year and a likely tax bill, it could be worth a "full court press" for the Republican leadership, Ramsey said.


If Heflin chooses to challenge the results, the issue would go to the House, where Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick would decide if the chamber will take up the issue, now ruled by Republicans by a 88-62 margin. The full chamber would then decide if it would order Gov. Rick Perry to declare the election void and set a new election.

The House can only accept Vo as the winner or order the governor to call a new election and has no authority to declare Heflin the winner.

Austin political consultant Bill Miller, who gives political advice to Craddick, said lawmakers in the House would put aside partisan preference and respect the election process.

"All of those individuals have run for office and they know that the ballot box is where it begins and ends," Miller said. "They're there because voter preference has been shown at the ballot box."

Well, that's one political consultant's opinion. George Strong, who consults from the other side of the aisle, says that he has heard that "Speaker Craddick has said that Vo will never serve in the Texas House".

I think it would be incredibly dumb for the House to order a new election in the event of a Heflin challenge. For one thing, 87-63 is still a pretty substantial majority - it's not like some Democratic bills are suddenly going to sail through because of one more Yes vote. For another, no one is ever irreplaceable. Surely there are plenty of other Republicans in the House who would jump at the chance to take over Heflin's spot as the Appropriations Committee chair. And finally, what are the odds that Heflin would win a second election? The district's demographics are already stacked against him, there won't be a Presidential election to bring out the Republican base, and you can bet your sweet bippy that Vo's supporters would be highly motivated. Strong notes that this would be an "interesting message to the Asian community at a time when the GOP is trying hard to make inroads to that group", and he's right about that. I just don't see the upside for this strategy. But hey, they've got the power, and if they want to use it then by God they're going to use it. We'll know soon enough.

UPDATE: Missed this Statesman story.

Does House Speaker Tom Craddick really want to begin next year's legislative session with a heated election contest laced with race and partisan rancor?

Craddick, at least publicly, declined Wednesday to deflate rampant speculation that the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives might try to save the re-election of its second most-powerful member, Houston Rep. Talmadge Heflin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who lost to Democrat Hubert Vo by 31 votes.

"It's Talmadge's decision on what his strategy is," said Bob Richter, Craddick's press secretary, after the speaker conferred with Heflin on Wednesday morning. "Craddick is staying out of it."

As Heflin, a 22-year veteran, weighed a recount and a legal challenge of the results to the full House, Democrats spun into action, salivating at the thought of portraying Texas Republicans as trying to steal an election victory -- a la Florida in 2000 -- from a Vietnamese immigrant who fled communism almost 30 years ago, then worked his way up from dishwasher to successful businessman.

Both sides, at least privately, are skeptical that a recount of electronic ballots would change the outcome. That would leave it to Heflin's lawyer, Andy Taylor, to make a legal case that would allow the House to set aside Vo's victory and require Gov. Rick Perry to call a special election, probably in February, that would set up a rematch.

"I know there's a lot of buzz," Taylor said. "We want to complete our investigation before we decide what to do."

He said a decision on whether to request a recount probably would come Nov. 19, after the vote has been canvassed by county and state officials.


The legal challenge could focus on software or hardware glitches that might not have recorded straight-ticket votes for Heflin. (Houston uses the same e-Slate system used in Travis County.)

Taylor also could second-guess election judges who decided which provisional ballots to count. Those ballots were given to voters on Election Day if there were questions about their qualifications to vote. Teams of Democratic and Republican judges decided which ballots to count.

Any disputes were settled by the presiding election judge, a Republican.

After all the stories about straight-ticket Democratic voters seeing Bush/Cheney on their ballot, for Team Heflin to sue over an eSlate straight-ticket voting glitch would be pretty damn funny. Almost as funny as having Ron Wilson represent Heflin pro bono in the House challenge (also noted by commenter Embree below). Statesman link via Lasso.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 11, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

Meanwhile, defeated Craddick lieutenant Ron Wilson has today offered to represent Heflin in a House floor challenge free of charge.

This sets up an interesting dynamic of Craddick's second-top committee chair, defeated in his own Houston primary earlier this year, trying desperately to help Craddick first-top committee chair now.

Are they this willing to destroy the democratic process to save it?

Posted by: Embree Timlin on November 11, 2004 12:57 PM

"Republicans in the House are stuck between losing their best and most qualified budget guy and looking like they're trying to steal an election," said Ross Ramsey....

Considering the GOP got away with redistricting essentially without punishment, I can't imagine why they would be concerned about "looking like they're trying to steal an election." So sure, I expect them to give Heflin a "do-over." I just hope it backfires and Vo wins in a landslide next time.

Posted by: Mathwiz on November 11, 2004 4:32 PM

How do they differentiate between a hardware/software glitch and the intent of the voter? There are voters who record a straight-ticket and then change specific races.

Better question, do they really believe that Talmadge Heflin can win in that district without the President at the top of the ballot? Sure, they can get all the Republican loyalists out again, but there are a lot of voters in that district, including Republicans, who are extremely dissatisfied with Talmadge Heflin and no amount of direct mail that says "vote for your nice neighbor" will change that.

Posted by: Sarah Berel-Harrop on November 12, 2004 8:47 AM

I was sure the Harris County GOP had weighed in on the straight-ticket issue...

I find [here] a reprint of the article I read a few weeks ago, in which Jared Woodfill is reported as thinking there is no problem with straight-ticket votes on eSlate.

quoted portion:

Local chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties differ on whether the eSlate electronic voting machines may confuse people who vote on a straight-party ticket.

Some voters have said they get indications that they have voted for the opposite party when casting a straight-party ballot.

Jared Woodfill, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, does not believe a problem exists. He said no one has complained to the local GOP.

"I think people have gotten used to the system in the last election cycles," he said.


The article goes on to provide David Bierne and Beverly Kaufman's view that the e-Slate is reliable.

Now, don't get me wrong, if there are demonstrable hardware or software glitches I would like to see them addressed. For example, at my local precinct during the Republican primary, one of the election officials reported a problem in which a voter was given the opportunity to vote in more than one State Rep Race (He was pretty upset, that is what it sounded like he was reporting).

But I do find it interesting that you have the GOP elected officials and operatives defending the system until it's their ox that is gored. I want to know that all votes are counted, properly, regardless of party. (That is why I am sending funds to the Cobb campaign for the joint Green/Libertarian initiative to perform a recount in Ohio. It's not about the results of any specific election. It's about making sure that the process is fair and is perceived by voters as fair and reliable).

Perhaps the good that will come of it would be to get support for a system involving a voter-verified paper trail ...

Posted by: Sarah Berel-Harrop on November 12, 2004 9:34 AM