Election Bombshell – Human error makes new election likely

March 7, 2018

County Judge Butch Wagner won another term at the head of the Commissioners Court Tuesday and local results were posted in a handful of state and national races, but the story of the night was the results that weren’t finalized.
Months of campaigning, weeks of early voting, and the rigors of election day might all be for naught in the race for Precinct 4 Commissioner after human error and astronomical odds led to a statistical dead heat and the likelihood of starting all over with another election.
More than two hours after polls closed on Tuesday night, Terry County Elections Administrator Krystal Valentin appeared in the courthouse hallway and requested that the four candidates for the commissioners seat convene in her office with the simple comment “we have a problem.”
Vote totals showed a clear front runner in political newcomer Ernesto Elizardo, who earned 131 votes in the election — more than twice that of the other three candidates, but shy of the needed 50 percent to claim victory without a runoff.
Most shocking though was the razor thin margin between the remaining three candidates, Aaron Thompson, Howard Moorhead, and Marvin Dawson, each separated by just one vote.
Thompson earned 64 votes, Moorhead 63, and Dawson 62.
Normally, Thompson would face Elizardo in a runoff and the other two candidates would be out.
But then the bombshell was dropped.
Two votes were cast mistakenly at the American Legion in the Precinct 4 race on Election Day by voters who don’t reside inside that precinct.
“We assume they were handed the wrong ballots and then voted without noticing the error,” said Terry County Republican Chairman Brad Moore, explaining the mixup and potential consequences in a meeting of the candidates following the election. “That’s the only discrepancy in this whole dadgum election and it happened in this precinct.”
Because of the nature of secret ballots, there is no way of knowing who cast the improper ballots, or to whom those votes were awarded.
Because the three trailing candidates were separated within a two-vote margin, there is no way to declare a winner and therefor, the election is invalid.
Moore said he expects to file a District Court lawsuit on behalf of any of the candidates who wish to complain that the election was not fair and any results could be contested.
“I’m upset that we had human error that caused this,” he said. “I’ll be checking with the Republican party, but I probably will get the court to order a new election.”
Moore said he could not tell Elizardo if he would be a part of the new election, or if it would be between the other three candidates to then face him in a runoff.
However he suspects that if the election is deemed invalid, that will apply to all of the results, thereby requiring all four of the candidates to run again.
Moore, a practicing local attorney, said the only other option would be for two of the candidates to agree to withdraw from the race immediately.
Thompson initially said he was not going to contest the results, presumably because he had a lead. Dawson was the first to say he was not willing to withdraw and wished to pursue the court order for a new election. Moorhead said he would do what everyone else did, then agreed to be party to the lawsuit when pressed my Moore if he wanted to be a plaintiff.
Thompson then reversed course and said he would also request the ruling.
Elizardo, visibly frustrated by the night’s events, also said he would join the lawsuit to remain part of the election.
Further complicating matters, it is doubtful that any action can be taken until the Commissioners Court certifies the election results, which can’t happen for 10 days following Tuesday’s count.
Adding to the confusion, one provisional ballot remains, but even if that went to one of the three trailing candidates, it still would not create a margin wide enough to negate the two-vote error.
There also were 11 undervotes, which means that many residents filled out Precinct 4 ballots, but simply did not cast a vote in the commissioners race.
“If the court orders a new election, you’ll all have to get your people back out to vote,” Moore said. “And that could result in another runoff.”
Valentin told the Brownfield News that another election will cost Terry County between $3,000 and $5,000.

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