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November 27, 2004

The Heflin-Vo Election Contest

Here in Houston, we still have one State Senate race with an outcome still in question. Senator Talmadge Heflin is contesting the results of his race with Hubert Vo over on the west side of Houston. For those of you not familiar with the case, the final vote tally shows Vo with a 32 vote lead, while the Heflin campaign is raising issues regarding results from several Democrat precincts, specifically questioning whether or not a number of votes were legally cast in those precincts.

Let me offer a few disclaimers.

I know Heflin, though not well.

I know his campaign manager much better.

My wife taught and coached his granddaughter and I was always quite fond of the girl.

And I serve on the committee that trains GOP election judges and alternates, as well as some poll watchers. I know some of the precincts we have historically worried about with regard to voting irregularities have been in this district. Thus the questions raised don't surprise me.

Now I've not been involved in this case, but from what I have heard from my sources, there were several Democrat precincts in which they allowed individuals to vote who had moved outside the county. Such votes are invalid, no matter how you slice it. Similarly, there are a handful of voters (about two dozen) who cast ballots during both early voting and on election day. All totaled, there are about 250 questionable votes, more than enough to turn the tables in this election.

Now here is where the problem comes in. Whether you are talking about electronic ballots, punch card ballots or paper ballots with an X marked through a box, there is no way to go back and determine which ballot came from which voter -- nor should there be, as it would eliminate the secret ballot.

What are the options?

1) Seat the winner of the current count, even though the outcome is questionable. This means that the legitimate voters of the district may be disenfranchised by seating a man who probably got fewer of the legitimate votes and was pushed over the top by illegally cast ballots.

2) Seat Heflin, on the basis that most of those votes are from precincts that went heavily against him. This creates a serious question in terms of appearances, as well as never fully answering the question of who the legitimate winner is (after all, we can never know if those illegitimate votes were cast for Vo or Heflin?).

3) Follow state law in the matter and have a second election. If past history is any indication, Heflin will be stomped by Vo, as voters have historically voted against the person filing a contest when a new election is ordered (and it has been 10-15 years since one of these elections has been re-run).

Needless to say, none of the outcomes is desirable. And to be honest, I don't consider any of the outcomes good for Heflin or the GOP in the county or the state (I don't see it having national importance). That is especially true given the fact that the apparent winner is a Vietnamese gentleman in a district with a growing Asian population. Heflin's challenge could poison the well for the GOP for decades to come (I wrote this last night, before the Chronicle editorial today made the same point). But while I think the best of the three bad options is for him to pack it in, but I don't think that there is anything particularly evil about him making sure that every legitimate vote counts and that illegitimate votes are not counted.

Frankly, I thought Heflin ran a crappy campaign this time around. Dan Patrick has a good analysis of the problems over at Lone Star Times. Dan's observation about the failure of the Heflin campaign to advertise on the local station that had the most listeners with an affinity for conservative causes was a big mistake, because that meant Heflin never activated his base. As such, I have to say he deserved to lose just because his campaign was inept.





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