HCDE election lawsuit dismissed

The lineup for the fall elections is now officially set.

Erica Lee

The disputed election results for the trustee runoff between two Democratic candidates will stand after a federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Harris County Department of Education after a flawed primary in May.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal released a 16-page opinion dismissing the suit against Harris County, Tax Assessor-Collector and voter registrar Don Sumners and Harris County Clerk and chief elections officer Stan Stanart seeking to scrap the results because of a flawed May primary filed by the department of education in June.

Sumners has acknowledged his office used outdated boundary information, making some ballots incorrect in two races. The judge ruled Thursday that the suit failed to show irreparable harm by the use of the incorrect boundary lines.

The suit had asked for a special election for two board seats on Nov. 6, in conjunction with the general election. The judge’s ruling said modifying the election will “disserve the public interest.” Candidates would have had to re-file, and Democrats and Republicans would be on the same ballot, pitting three Democrats and one Republican against each other. County attorneys, the Democratic and Republican parties and Democratic candidate Erica S. Lee filed motions to dismiss the suit in July.


Jarvis Johnson

The Position 6 trustee runoff election between Lee and former Houston city councilman Jarvis Johnson was the main focus of the lawsuit. The other flawed primary between Republicans for Position 4 was unaffected by the incorrect boundaries because the two candidates were separated by 21,000 votes and fewer than 1,500 voters were affected by the error.

Johnson argued he could have been the clear-cut winner after he received 49.5 percent of the vote to Lee’s 40.6 percent in May had there not been an error. Lee won the runoff with 75 percent of the vote.

Johnson called the judge’s ruling a “travesty of justice” for the voters and the candidates.

“They are just trying to push this thing through without having justice served,” he said. “I think this does set a bad precedent, the worst precedent of all. Mistakes can be made in the system and the only thing we are going to do is sweep it under the rug.”

See here, here, and here for background. Johnson could have won it outright in May if the boundaries had been correct, but he’d have needed to do very well in the omitted precincts for that to have happened. There were no good answers to this mess, but this one does have the benefit of leaving the November election as is. I suppose Johnson could pursue his own litigation, which could subsequently overturn this result and force the special election we could have had this time, but I’ll worry about that when and if it comes to pass. For now I’m just glad we have all the litigation behind us.

On a side note, I did not see a headline on the front page of the redesigned Chron.com for this story, nor did I see a headline for it in the Houston/Texas section. I saw it in the print edition, and then searched the archives for it. Color me not impressed.

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