Harris County election error a federal case ... literally - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Harris County election error a federal case ... literally

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Out of the voting booth and into federal court; that's apparently what's going to happen as Harris County tries to sort out slew of problems stemming from a major election error on primary day.

The races effected were for the Harris County Department of Education.  County election officials used the old district lines for the May primary, despite the fact that district boundaries had been changed. So either hundreds of voters didn't get to vote or they voted in the wrong races.

Harris County admits this is a serious problem.

"With the mistake by Harris County,  we have violated or appear to have violated significant federal laws,"  said Terry O'Rourke,  First Assistant Harris County Attorney Tuesday.  "The question is, how do you cure that? What's the best way to fix this?"

O'Rourke says the county may ask a federal judge to "bless" the election results as they stand, letting the run-off continue.  But there are multiple parties that will weigh in on the matter, and will likely have different opinions.

"Based on the numbers that Don Sumners (Harris County Tax Assessor/Collector) was showing,  based on the trend that was taking place in the race,  it clearly demonstrates where I was able to win more than 50 percent of the votes," said candidate Jarvis Johnson.

Johnson was the top vote getter in the Democratic primary for  HCDE Position 6 but finished a half percentage point shy of the 50% needed to win the election outright.  Johnson believes he should be declared the winner of the election, but the second place vote getter, Erica Lee, sees it differently.

"First I'd want an analysis," Lee told FOX 26 on Tuesday.  "I believe votes cannot be given. They can only be cast.  So unless they have a cast vote I don't think that is really viable."

The election error is compounded by the fact that run-off voting is already underway.  Mail-in ballots based on the erroneous district lines have already been mailed out.  Some voters have returned them already.  Early voting for the run-off starts July 23rd for the July 31st election.

The HCDE board held an emergency meeting on the matter Tuesday, saying it in no way was responsible for this voting error.  Tax Assessor Collector Don Sumners wrote in a letter to Jarvis Johnson that HCDE failed to update the tax office of the new boundaries, but admitted his tax office did not notice that the update was missing.

O'Rourke says the county has opened itself up for potential voter lawsuits, but he hopes going quickly to a federal judge with the problem will ease troubles down the road.  He said if the judge doesn't validate the election as is, it's possible he could rule that the county to continue with the election anyway.  If it's later invalidated in a court challenge, the county could have hold a new election.

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