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Judge Further Delays A Decision In Disputed Houston City Council District B Runoff

A special election will be scheduled for some time next year.

Houston voters rally outside Houston City Hall to keep the District B race on the December runoff ballot.

Houston voters won’t find the City Council District B race on the runoff ballot this week due to an ongoing legal challenge. Now, that election will be delayed even further. 

After a hearing on Monday, Harris County Judge Cory Sepolio said he’s disqualified from hearing the case because state law requires an election contest to be heard by a judge outside the county where the election is taking place. A special judge will be appointed and a new hearing scheduled.   

The third-place candidate in the general election, Renee Jefferson Smith, is contesting the election results on the grounds that the second-place candidate, Cynthia Bailey, is ineligible due to a felony conviction. Tarsha Jackson, the front-runner in the general election, has said she believes Bailey is eligible to run.

The new runoff election could have been rescheduled for January 28, when a special election has already been called for state runoff races, but now District B residents won’t choose a council member until later in the year. 

“Today, I’m calling on the courts to appoint the special judge and hear arguments in our case this week,” Jackson said. “The people of District B deserve to choose their next council member without further delay.”

Under state law, candidates with felony convictions are allowed to run for office if they’ve been pardoned or “otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.” During the 2019 Texas legislative session, State senator Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) pointed out that virtually no one knows for sure what the end of that sentence means.

“The ‘resulting disabilities’ line is unclear and without legal precedent, causing confusion as to who is exactly eligible to run for public office,” Fallon said. 

Fallon introduced legislation that could have settled the question about whether people with felony convictions are eligible, but that bill failed. 

Now the unanswered question is resurfacing in Houston’s District B race.

During the hearing on Monday, Jefferson Smith’s attorney Lindsay Roberts argued the City of Houston broke the rules by allowing Bailey to run, therefore the votes in the general election were counted illegally.

“Did they follow the rules? No, they didn’t. They made a mistake,” Roberts said.  

Bailey’s attorney Oliver Brown said his client should be allowed to remain on the ballot. He said the election contest lawsuit was invalid because the votes were counted correctly. 

“Because it doesn’t meet the definition of an election contest,” Brown said, “therefore the judge should dismiss it.” 

Instead of dismissing the case, Sepolio called for a special judge to be assigned to the election contest.

The case was originally assigned to Judge Kyle Carter, who recused himself last week.

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