Harris County officials are scrambling to resolve a mistake involving the May primary election for trustees of the Harris County Department of Education, less than a week before early voting begins for a runoff election. The county relied on outdated district boundaries when it distributed ballots for the school trustee primary elections in May, which means some voters could have cast ballots in the wrong district and others who should have had a chance to vote were excluded. The mistake only affected the school trustee elections, said Doug Ray, an assistant Harris County attorney. John Sawyer, the appointed superintendent of the department, said he expects that a judge ultimately will void the elections. He said his agency, which provides educational services to local school districts, would contest the election if no one else does. “I will tell you that ultimately we would contest them because I don’t think they (the boundaries) were legally drawn, and I’m not going to be responsible for swearing in candidates that may not be elected legally,” Sawyer said. “I just can’t do that.”
In response, the Harris County Attorney’s Office likely would file court papers asking a judge to provide guidance on how to fix the problem, said Ray. The judge could toss out the results of the May primary and order that a new election for the two affected school trustee seats be held in November, with candidates from all parties participating, Ray speculated. A judge may also decide that the May election can stand and that the situation would be resolved simply by applying the correct boundaries for the one seat for which the election resulted in a runoff.
“It’s speculative at this point to determine whether the outcome would have been the same or not” if correct boundaries had been used, Ray said. “There are so many affected parties. The court’s going to have to be the one to decide it, I think.” The school trustees planned to meet Tuesday to discuss the issue.