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Pierre claims uncounted votes in his lawsuit

Here’s an update on Democratic judicial candidate J. Goodwille Pierre, who filed a lawsuit in December claiming that votes were improperly rejected in his race, which he lost by 230 tallies to incumbent Judge Joseph “Tad” Halbach.

The Harris County Clerk’s Office sent [Shilonda R.] Williams a letter after the November election saying her ballot had been disqualified because there was no record of her voter registration.

But the bipartisan Early Ballot Board, formed to make final decisions on whether thousands of questioned ballots should have been counted, never got to deliver a verdict on whether Williams was missing from the registration list. The clerk’s office withheld Williams’ ballot from the referees because election workers apparently lost track of the electronic record of the choices she had marked on a voting machine.

Because there was no way to retrieve a record of her votes, it was uncertain Thursday whether her votes were rejected prematurely — or counted when they should not have been.

The ballot board, chaired by Republican retired business executive Jim Harding, rejected more than 5,000 ballots cast by people who were allowed to vote on the condition that questions about their registration status would have to be resolved weeks later. Each of those voters had to fill out a “provisional ballot affidavit,” swearing he or she was qualified to vote, before getting to touch a voting machine.

But more than 200 affidavits never made it through the system because there was no record of cast votes to go with them.

In some cases, people completed the affidavit without subsequently voting, according to ballot records. In others, election judges mistakenly gave provisional voters a code that allowed their votes to be recorded permanently, with no way for county workers or the ballot board to decide whether the votes should have been counted.

“My mistake — went through as a regular vote,” an election judge in northwest Houston wrote on a woman’s ballot.

But in Williams’ case and others, there was no ready explanation for why the clerk’s office said it never received a ballot along with the affidavit.

It’s clear from reading the story that there was some confusion over provisional ballots, and that some procedures might not have been followed completely. What’s not clear to me is whether you can say this necessarily had an effect on the outcome. I would think the only possible remedy if you accept Pierre’s arguments is a do-over. I don’t see that happening, but I guess that’s the judge’s headache. The case is apparently now being litigated in Montgomery County, and there’s no hearing date set yet. Makes me wonder if we’ll have a resolution before the 2010 filing deadline. Cory has more.

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