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Harris County Department of Education Files Federal Court Suit to Mandate New Trustee Elections

The Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) today filed suit in federal court seeking new elections for Trustees whose district boundaries were wrong in the May 29th primary.

HCDE officials learned earlier this week that outdated boundaries were used in the primary election for Trustees in Positions 4 and 6. The boundaries should have been updated to match the new boundaries for county commissioners drawn by a federal court for the 2012 election. Thousands of registered voters were affected by this error—many people voted who were not supposed to vote in that particular Trustee race and many people were not afforded the opportunity to vote in the correct Trustee race.

The lawsuit filed by HCDE against the county today maintains that using the wrong boundaries in these elections violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “one person, one vote.” HCDE is seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief requiring that:

Harris County be enjoined from proceeding with the general election for HCDE Trustees based on the primary and run-off elections with incorrect boundaries;

· the May 29 primary results be declared void for Trustee Positions 4 and 6, along with the Democratic run-off election scheduled July 31 for Trustee Position 6;

· a special election for Trustee Positions 4 and 6 be held in conjunction with the November 6 general election;

· filing for those seats be re-opened and that all candidates, whether Democrat or Republican, run in one race for each Trustee position using the correct boundaries;

· Harris County be ordered to seek pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act; and

· a schedule be ordered for the November 6 special election regarding filing and other deadlines.

The HCDE Board of Trustees in an emergency meeting July 17 authorized Board President Angie Chesnut and Superintendent Dr. John E. Sawyer to initiate legal proceedings on this issue. Early voting for the Democratic run-off for Position 6 begins Monday; mail ballots have already been distributed and returned for that race. It is too late to remove the candidates’ names from the ballot—HCDE is asking that the votes that are cast in that race not be counted.

Harris County Department of Education provides essential education services to the general public and 26 school districts throughout Harris County. HCDE serves Harris County with after-school programs, early childhood intervention, Head Start, therapy services, alternative schools for at-risk students, GED certification and assistance to educators.

Sue Davis

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