A felon may remain on the runoff ballot in the Houston City Council District B race, a Harris County judge ruled on Friday, despite state law that may bar residents with felony convictions from seeking public office.
On Election Day, Cynthia Bailey qualified for the second and final runoff spot in District B, edging third-place finisher Renee Jefferson-Smith by 168 votes. Jefferson-Smith last week sued to remove Bailey from the ballot, arguing her 2007 conviction for theft of more than $200,000 made her ineligible to run.
Harris County 270th District Court Judge Dedra Davis on Friday denied Jefferson-Smith’s request to remove Bailey from the ballot, which would allow her a place in the runoff, said Oliver Brown, Bailey’s attorney.
The Texas Election Code is unclear on whether a felon may run for office. It bars candidates who have been “finally convicted” of a felony or who have not been “pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities,” though the law does not define these disabilities.
Brown said Bailey’s conviction is well known to voters, who can make an informed decision about whether this disqualifies her. He said District B residents can open the door to other felons to run for office if they elect Bailey.
“They can send a message to the city and state, that regardless of a candidate’s past, they believe in the redemption of citizens after they’ve been released by the Department of Corrections.”
See here for the background. Renee Jefferson Smith did not comment in the story, so we don’t know if she intends to appeal or let this be. Neither her campaign nor personal Facebook pages say anything about it, and her campaign hasn’t tweeted since May. We’re less than two weeks out from the start of early voting, and I presume mail ballots are being sent out as well, so it’s not clear to me that she could get a change now regardless. What happens after the election should Cynthia Bailey win is a matter we’ll address if and when it happens. In the meantime, the lesson I take from this is file the lawsuit after the August deadline and hope the issue gets decided then. And for Pete’s sake, let’s lobby the Lege to clean this up. I say that felons who complete their sentences should be free to vote and run for office as they see fit, but that notion will take a lot of work to pass. Better to start on that sooner than later.