When I first heard about an incident involving the Harris County Clerk’s office giving out real, live ballots to a couple of women that simply went to the office and asked for them, I thought it was just another example of County Clerk Stan Stanart’s struggles with administering the office. And that is certainly a part of the story but only a part. The real story is how the Clear Creek ISD and perhaps the Galveston Daily News are stacking the deck in favor of a bond election that will be held May 11th.
Here’s the background. The CCISD is wanting voters to approve another bond issue of $367 million dollars. Knowing that voters in southern Harris County and Galveston County have turned to the right since their last bond election, the CCISD polling locations are different from other municipal elections happening the same day. In addition to that, they have scheduled “rolling voting”, meaning they are moving voting machines from school to school for a few hours each day during early voting. In an effort to counter these moves by the CCISD board, a couple of citizens wanted to pass out mail in ballot applications to the attendees of Sunday’s Clear Lake Tea Party Tax Day Rally.
Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it? Pass out mail in applications, people could then vote by mail in the CCISD election and then vote in the other elections without driving all over town, there would be a higher overall turnout for the CCISD election, and everyone would be happy. Right? Uh, no. School boards want very small turnout for their bond elections. Specifically, they want teachers and parents of current school kids to be largest voting bloc, virtually guaranteeing a win. That is what the “rolling voting” is all about in the first place.
So the two citizens head down to the Harris County Clerk’s office to pick up a stack of mail ballot applications. Here’s where the problem started. When the citizens asked for mail ballot applications, the two temporary workers they were talking to were confused. The confusion started because the county clerk’s office isn’t handling the election – CCISD is because CCISD is comprised of multiple counties. Most of the May elections around Harris County are not handled by the county clerk’s office, so this is not unusual. As such, the county clerk’s office did not have mail ballot applications for this election. This confusion was exacerbated by the fact that CCISD has contracted with the clerk’s office to code the ballots and rent the E-slates used in the election.
After much back and forth with the temporary workers, a supervisor eventually came by and after more discussion, a decision was made to give the two citizens real, live ballots. Remember, all the citizens asked for were mail ballot applications but over the course of a confusing hour, they were given real ballots. They signed for them, provided identification, and went on their way. The ballots were sealed by the clerk’s office.
That was on April 2nd. Later that day, according to an article by TJ Aulds in the Galveston County Daily News, Clear Creek’s deputy superintendent for business and support services, Linda Bertram, called the clerk’s office:
“I called Harris County Department of Ballot by Mail to find out about our mail ballots,” Bertram wrote in an email to district administrators. “Someone representing CCISD picked up our ballots yesterday; her name is (Lianne) Russell. She knew everything about our election, as well as our bond election and all the mobile sites. Anyone know who this person is? Harris County is looking into this, but I told them I’d check here to see if anyone knew this person.”
Well, in addition to her political activism, Lianne Russell happens to be a campaign manager for one of the people running for the CCISD board. The second citizen, Tanya Robertson, happens to be President of the Clear Lake Tea Party.
Instant conspiracy/way to get the Galveston Daily News involved! Yippee says the board! We’re going to discredit the people opposing the bond issue!
Except that isn’t what happened at all. The two women never represented themselves as officials of CCISD. I know that because I talked to Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart this morning, something the Mr. Aulds should have done.
To his credit, Stanart accepted responsibility for the snafu. He explained to me about the temporary workers and the confusion. He also explained that it was not out of the ordinary for a couple of citizens to show up and pick up real, live ballots for the May elections – he told me that different entities have different methods of picking them up, including courier service. As a result of this incident, he is implementing stronger controls – each entity responsible for an election must provide in advance the name(s) of the persons that are authorized to pick up ballots. When the person arrives to pick up the ballots, they will be checked against the authorized list, have their identification recorded, and then given the ballots.
Stanart went further to explain that the integrity of the election was never in jeopardy. After receiving the call from CCISD, and figuring out what happened, the serialized ballots were cancelled, and the women were asked to return them. They did return them immediately, unopened. Stanart contacted the District Attorney’s and advised them of the situation. He also advised them that there was no intent on the part of the two women to obtain ballots fraudulently.
So, no election integrity problem, no intent to defraud, all is well. Right? No, because as I pointed out earlier, the CCISD board saw a way to help get their $367 million bond package passed. So they filed a complaint of their own with the Harris County District Attorney’s office, and then made certain that their favorite reporter at the Galveston Daily News was aware of the situation so that a very one-sided version of the story would be on the doorsteps of the rag’s subscribers on Sunday Morning, their biggest circulation day. Isn’t that special?
Bottom line is that because of an error down at the Harris County Clerk’s office, two women have had their names and reputation impugned. And that sucks. Nothing to do about it but try and set the record straight.
But there is something that you can do if you are in the CCISD and that is to cast your ballot. I don’t have a clue as to whether or not that bond election is good or bad, so you’ll have to figure that one out. I do know that the Clear Lake Tea Party isn’t against any and every bond election, so if they are against it, they will have a strong argument for you to help make up your mind.
And fortunately, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart has already been working with the state legislature to eliminate these “rolling voting” elections. Rep. Rick Miller from Fort Bend has filed HB-3078 at Stanart’s request. Miller is a member of the House Election Committee and might be able to move it out of that committee to the floor for a vote. This is a great idea and kudos to Stanart for pushing it. As he told me, “Too many entities that run elections have the mobile units show up for a PTA meeting, school ball game, or similar event so as to pick their voters. This bill forces an entity to keep the machines at one location for the full day.” Sounds like a good plan to me. If you have any doubt about the indebtedness of Texas school districts, Comptroller Susan Combs has answers for you – it is a staggering amount of money that must be repaid by local property owners.
One of the unfortunate takeaways from stories like this is that if you do choose to enter the political arena, whether as a candidate or an activist, you will be attacked. I happen to know both of these women personally and I guarantee you that these attacks will not deter them from future activism, so if that was part of the intent of the CCISD and the Galveston Daily News, it was a complete fail. While I’m thinking about it, why not attend the tax day rally this Sunday? And while you are there, pick up a mail ballot application and fill it out. Voting in these small elections makes a BIG difference. Click the picture below for details.