Three Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) Trustee positions were up for election in 2012, with primary elections held in all three positions on May 29, 2012. Those positions, and the candidates who ran, were Position 3– which is at-large (Democrats David Rosen and Diane Trautman ran, and Republicans Richard Johnson and Michael Wolfe ran); Position 4– which corresponds to Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3 (Democrat Sylvia Mintz ran and Republicans Raymond T. Garcia and Kay Smith also ran); and Position 6– which corresponds to Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 1 (Democrats Reagan Flowers, Jarvis Johnson, and Erica Lee ran, and Republican JuLuette Bartlett-Pack ran).
It was brought to HCDE’s attention that the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar’s mapping department failed to update the maps for the HCDE trustee precinct-based elections. There is no dispute that the county employed incorrect boundary lines for the HCDE Trustee elections for positions 4 and 6.
Initially, HCDE was not officially notified of this matter. Instead, HCDE officials received information from a third-party source, and then initiated contact with the County Attorney. After meeting with the County Attorney Monday morning, HCDE officials received official notification of this matter Monday afternoon when Mr. Don Sumners, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar, handed a copy of a letter dated July 13, 2012, to an HCDE representative.
Pursuant to the Texas Education Code, the office of County School Trustee is a county office. Consequently, Harris County is responsible for the election process relating to HCDE trustee elections. HCDE does not, is not required, and has not been required in previous years, to perform any essential task in the election process, including calling the election, notifying any authority– including the tax assessor-collector and voter registrar’s office– of new boundary lines; seeking preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice when a change in voting has occurred; or otherwise. The notion that this mistake is somehow HCDE’s fault is simply indefensible.
The Commissioners’ precinct boundary lines were changed due to the 2010 census, and a federal court order was entered ordering that new boundary lines be employed for Commissioners’ precincts for the May 29, 2012 primary election. These new boundary lines should have been used for the HCDE trustee elections for positions 4 and 6. Despite being aware of the new Commissioners’ precinct boundary lines, the tax assessor-collector and voter registrar’s office mapping division used the old Commissioners’ precincts boundary lines based on the 2000 census for the election of HCDE trustee positions 4 and 6.
New boundary lines constitute a change in voting that requires preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The county did not seek preclearance for the new boundary lines for the HCDE elections. For this, and perhaps for additional reasons, a violation of the Voting Rights Act likely occurred.
In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” requirement is likely implicated due to the fact that some voters voted in the primary election who should not have voted and some voters did not vote in the primary election who should have been given the opportunity to vote.
HCDE and its attorneys are actively evaluating the legal options of the Department to adequately address this situation– which is important to the Department, the candidates, the voters, and the clients HCDE serves.
Yesterday, the HCDE Board of Trustees approved a motion authorizing Board President Angie Chesnut and County School Superintendent Dr. John E. Sawyer– acting on behalf of HCDE and the Board– to initiate, appear, and/or participate in, legal proceedings relating to the use of inaccurate boundary lines in the May 29, 2012 primary elections.
Statements will be issued as HCDE takes further steps to remedy this unfortunate situation.
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