Late election night for many county politicians

Raquel West (center) and family

It was a late night Tuesday, March 4, for candidates running for county offices after ballots in the Republican and Democratic primaries in Jefferson County had to be recounted, keeping many local politicians up past midnight while voting totals rolled in.

County Clerk Carolyn Guidry said it all started about 5 p.m. when poll workers began counting early voting totals at the Port Arthur Library. She said the problem was caused by poll workers who did not close the voting machines properly on Feb. 28 when early voting was completed.

“When the tabulation supervisor went to tabulate the early voting from the early voting equipment … they went through the process of tabulating all the flash cards for the different locations and when they got to the Port Arthur Library flash cards ... their totals were reading zero,” Guidry said. “That’s when they knew something was wrong. … Because had they collected the votes at the end of the night to close the process, those votes would have been recorded on those flash cards. Obviously that had not been done.”

Guidry said after poll workers set up all 12 machines and properly closed them — thereby recording each vote that had been cast during early voting — the number of voters who signed in before voting did not match the number of votes cast on the voting machines, and the poll supervisor decided to start from scratch sometime between 7 and 8 p.m.

“The numbers were off,” Guidry said. “That was 12 locations that had to be re-read. Also our early voting locations. So we really lost about three hours worth of work by starting the process all over again.”

Eventually, vote totals were tallied, revealing at least three Democratic runoff elections for county offices, elections that will be held May 27 for those who voted in their respective Democratic or Republican primaries.

Perhaps the most high-profile runoff will be in Jefferson County’s 252nd Criminal District Court, which was recently vacated by Judge Layne Walker. The runoff will be between attorneys Raquel West, who received 4,310 votes or 38.6 percent of votes, and Stella Batiste Morrison, who received 3,519 votes or 31.5 percent of the total. The winner of that runoff will face Carolyn Drawhorn Weidenfeld, a Republican, in the general election in November.

Next on the list is a runoff for County Court at Law No. 3, which was recently vacated when Judge John Paul Davis passed away. The runoff will be between Terrence L. Holmes, who received 4,243 votes or 36.8 percent of the vote, and Beaumont City Councilman Audwin Samuel, who received 4,913 votes or 42.7 percent of the vote. The winner will face Republican Clint M. Woods in November.

Also in a Democratic runoff will be, for Justice of the Peace Precinct 8, Tom Gilliam III, who received 602 votes or 45.5 percent of the vote, and Kenneth W. Marks with 307 votes or 23.2 of the total.

In the race for District Clerk, Jamie Smith led the Democrats with 5,835 votes or 51.1 percent of the total. Smith faced Stanley Hatcher, who received 2,878 or 25.2 percent of the total, and Rose Mitchell Chaisson, who received 2,697 votes or 23.6 of the total. Smith will face Republican Charlie Wiggins who received 5,203 votes or 55.7 percent of Republican primary votes to Karen J. Stewart’s 4,127 votes or 44.2 percent of the total.

To combat any future mix-up with vote counts, Guidry said she will have to monitor supervisors and poll workers more closely to ensure that they close early voting machines properly.

“I guess in the future, I’m gonna have to have a better checks and balances behind my election clerks to make sure they are closing properly when we’re getting that early voting equipment back in. So I just need more people, I guess, to deploy in the field at the early voting sites when they’re closing down to monitor what the clerks are doing,” Guidry said. “But with a staff of four, that’s kind of hard to do. We’ll have to see what other counting provisions we can make to do a better job of monitoring our clerks in the field.”

Voter turnout was low in Jefferson County, according to the County Clerk’s website, hovering about 10 to 20 percent of registered voters in most precincts within Jefferson County. The county clerk reported there were 8,167 early votes in the Democratic primary and 10,747 total compared to 6,629 early votes in the Republican primary and 12,153 total.