Dallas County Republicans have filed a lawsuit to have 128 Democrats kicked off the March 6 primary ballot.
The lawsuit, filed in Dallas County late Friday, contends that Dallas County Democratic Party Chairman Carol Donovan didn’t sign the petitions of 128 Democratic Party candidates before sending them to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, as required by law.
“The Election Code says the chairman, and nobody else, has to sign them,” said Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham, a lawyer for the Dallas County Republican Party. “Carol Donovan is the chair. She was supposed to sign them. She didn’t do it.”
The news stunned some Democrats after a lawyer for their party notified them of the lawsuit Sunday afternoon.
“We have assembled a legal team of Dallas’ best and brightest Democratic election law attorneys,” Donovan said late Sunday in a news release. “Though we are taking this case seriously, the Republican Party’s lawsuit is not supported by Texas law. We will fight to ensure that all Democratic voters in Dallas County can participate in a fair Primary election.”
According to the lawsuit, only a fraction of the candidate petitions approved by Donovan actually contained a signature by her hand. The GOP lawsuit alleges Donovan’s signature on other petitions was not hers.
There’s not a whole lot of information to go on here, so let me note a couple of comments I saw on Facebook from people who know election law far better than I do. The first is from Glen Maxey:
“This is a frivolous lawsuit. The Primary Director, under the direction of the Chair, signed these forms. That’s the way it’s been done for decades. And the courts have ruled that way in the past.”
And the second is from Gerry Birnberg:
“And that’s how the Harris County Republican Party does it (or has for years).”
To that extent, and based on another comment I saw, here is Sec. 1.007:
DELIVERING, SUBMITTING, AND FILING DOCUMENTS. (a) When this code provides for the delivery, submission, or filing of an application, notice, report, or other document or paper with an authority having administrative responsibility under this code, a delivery, submission, or filing with an employee of the authority at the authority’s usual place for conducting official business constitutes filing with the authority.
In other words – and remember, I Am Not A Lawyer – it seems like the law allows for an employee of the county party to sign the documents, in place of the Chair. Which is what Maxey and Birnberg are saying. Individual candidates have had ballot applications rejected for technical issues with petitions they have submitted, but this isn’t quite the same as that.
There’s also the question of standing, which DCDP lawyers brought up in response to this suit.
According to a document filed late Monday on behalf of 14 candidates threatened with removal from the ballot, the Dallas County Republican Party and its chairwoman, Missy Shorey, have no standing to bring the suit, since they are not candidates in the election.
“The DCRP is clearly not a candidate and Shorey does not allege that she is a candidate for any office,” according to the filing from the lawyers. “As such, neither the DCRP nor Shorey have the necessary personal interest to have standing to seek the removal of any candidate from the ballot.”
Shorey and her attorney, Dallas lawyer Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham, argue that Dallas County Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Donovan was required to sign the candidate paperwork of Democrats appearing on the March 6 ballot and send the documents to the Texas Secretary of State. Donovan signed only a fraction of the petitions submitted to her, but her signature, clearly signed by someone else, appears on the documents of the 128 candidates in question.
But the candidates, led by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, say there’s nothing in election law that requires Donovan to “sign” candidate petitions, and that she can designate a person to review and sign petitions, if she chose.
Buck Wood, an attorney for the 14 candidates who responded to the suit, said it’s unlikely that the GOP lawsuit would result in anybody being removed from a ballot.
Wood said process duties, like those of a county party chairman, should not determine the fate of an “eligible” candidate because it would open the door for sloppy or diabolical county leaders sabotaging efforts of candidates across the state.
“It’s not an eligibility issue,” Wood said. “There’s no way anybody can be replaced.”
I have a hard time believing a court would essentially cancel dozens of elections for what seems to be normal practice, but I suppose anything can happen. At the very least, it looks like this action may be dismissed or withdrawn for now, but may be raised again after the primaries. We’ll see.