Two lawyers seeking Democratic nominations as county court judges today each filed a pro se suit against Gerry Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, alleging they will be “irreparably harmed” because they aren’t listed first in their races on the primary ballot.
Dennis Slate, a Houston solo, alleges in a petition he filed in Harris County 164th District Court that, as a result of a primary ballot drawing conducted by Birnberg on Jan. 7, his name should be first on the primary ballot for County Criminal Court No. 13. However, Slate alleges in Dennis M. Slate v. Gerry Birnberg, et al. that his primary opponent, John V. O’Sullivan, is listed first on the official Democratic Primary ballot that Slate alleges was made public on Feb. 4 by Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman and her office.
Meanwhile, in Javier Valenzuela v. Gerry Birnberg, et al., also filed today in Harris County 334th District Court, Javier Valenzuela alleges he should have been listed on the ballot before his primary opponent, Damon Crenshaw, because of the Jan. 7 primary ballot drawing. Crenshaw and Valenzuela are seeking the nomination for judge in County Civil Court-at-Law No. 3.
Slate and Valenzuela each allege in their petitions that Birnberg has “refused” to correct the errors on the ballot, and they allege they will be “irreparably harmed” by the ballot order.
“It is a well known fact that many times candidates in the first position will receive additional votes based entirely on them being located in the first position,” Valenzuela alleges in his petition.
I’ve heard that, and though I’ve not seen any studies, I believe it’s likely to be true. I can’t evaluate these suits on their merits, but I will say that it’s ridiculous to me that in the age of electronic voting machines we’re still drawing for and arguing over ballot position. There’s no good reason why they can’t be programmed to randomize the ballot order so this issue is moot. Yes, I know, the eSlate machines we have are not able to do that, but as Sue Schechter noted in her interview, we’ll be getting ready to buy their replacements soon. I for one would like to see this capability made a requirement for the next machines. If that means existing elections code needs to be altered to allow for it, then I hope someone will take it up in the next Legislature. There’s just no reason to go through this.