Redistricting adds another wrinkle in the process to replace Houston state Rep. Garnet Coleman

The race to replace Coleman involves both a runoff and a special election — but not every voter will get to cast a ballot in both.


Outgoing state Rep. Garnet Coleman

The process to decide who will replace Garnet Coleman in the Texas House of Representatives was already complicated. When the lawmaker announced his retirement, it set up a special election to determine who will finish out his current term that runs through 2022. But it’s also an election year, meaning there’s an ongoing primary to decide who will run as a Democrat in November’s election to fill the seat in 2023.

Now, another wrinkle: Each election involves a different version of Texas House District 147 in the wake of last year’s redistricting — and that means some voters who participate in one election won’t be involved in the other.

Coleman, a Houston Democrat who has been a member of the Texas House of Representatives since 1990, announced his retirement in February. His term doesn’t run out until January, so voters in the existing district must decide on May 7 who fills that seat for the remainder of his term.

But the district was also redrawn after the 2020 census. That means the May 24 primary runoff election and the Nov. 8 general election will exclude some voters and include some others thanks to the newly drawn district map.

EXPLAINER | Here’s why there’s two races to replace Garnet Coleman

Most people will be eligible to vote in both elections, according to the Harris County Elections Administration’s Office — there are only two ZIP codes voting to replace Coleman May 7 that won’t get to vote during the primary runoff and general election.

But Nadia Hakim, a spokesperson for the office, said she understands why it might be confusing for voters to understand which race they can and can’t vote in.

“It’s a little weird, because some folks who saw this position on their ballot on March 1, they won’t see it on their May 7 ballot,” Hakim said.

Voters living in ZIP codes 77005 and 770098 — which include the Upper Kirby and University Place area by the Medical Center, as well as River Oaks and parts of Montrose — will be eligible to vote for Coleman’s replacement May 7. However, those same voters won’t get to vote in the primary runoff or general election for the seat’s next term May 24.

Political parties are now working to inform voters in House District 147 — both the old and new district maps — to ensure they’re aware of what election will be on their ballots in May. Odus Evbagharu, the Harris County Democratic Party chair, said the party is working to keep people informed.

Still, Evbagharu said Harris County voters are getting tired — the county has had multiple elections back-to-back, the most in one year since 1996.

“You’re trying to encourage the voter as well, but also not wear them out before we get to November,” he said. “It’s a lot of politics being scarfed down their throat.”

Coleman has said that he decided to retire early in order to give whoever wins the special election “a leg up in seniority" in Austin. The later someone is elected, the further down the list they end up.

Coleman told Houston Public Media earlier this year he expected the person who won the special election to also win the primary.

"This will make them, if they get elected in a uniform election date, probably number 120 instead of number 150," he said. "And that makes a difference with seniority appointments.”

Coleman has endorsed former Houston City Councilmember Jolanda Jones, who will head into the May 24 runoff against Realtor Danielle Keys Bess. Both are also running in the special election.

Evbagharu, the Democratic party chair, acknowledged the unfortunate timing of the elections.

“Sometimes, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles,” Evbagharu said.