Following an election recount last week, State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) has been declared the winner in HD-48 by 12 votes. But were all the votes counted? Not so, according to Dan Neil, her Republican challenger, who claims Travis County didn’t properly count the ballots of military members serving overseas.
Once again, an election controversy surrounds the idea of whether military voters should be allowed to cast ballots in state and local elections. Remember, Bill White fought against troops voting in these elections when he was chairman of the Texas Democratic Party in the 1990s.
It looks like the Travis County officials were taking notes from Mr. White. Apparently, they only counted straight-party votes in the federal race for U.S. Congress, but not for the other non-federal elections that military members are eligible to vote in, including the contested race for the Texas House between Rep. Howard and Mr. Neil.
If accurate, this is an outrageous decision, and means Travis County officials may have also blocked some members of the National Guard serving overseas from voting for their preferred candidate for governor of Texas, their state’s commander-in-chief.
Buck Wood, a legal apologist for Travis County (and Rep. Howard’s attorney), defends the outcome. He said, “Under the law, certain voters, primarily civilians living overseas indefinitely, are allowed to vote only in federal races. Those persons are simply not allowed to vote in the HD 48 race. Travis County election officials correctly counted their ballots. Even if those voters wanted to vote for Ms. Howard or Mr. Neil, their votes are not allowed in this race.”
It is interesting to note that Camp Mabry, the headquarters for the Texas Military Forces (which includes the Texas Army and Air National Guards), is located in Travis County, and HD-48 in particular.
Conveniently, Mr. Wood makes no reference to the military voters who may have had their votes compromised in the various state elections.
While this isn’t the first time the handling and counting of military ballots has come into question, hopefully it will be among the last.
On the first day to file bills for the 82nd Legislative Session, conservative State Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano), a Marine Corps and Iraq War Veteran, and State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), a consistent advocate for military personnel, filed legislation that would better facilitate overseas military voting.
In discussing the legislation, Sen. Van de Putte said, “we must do more to ensure that our military can participate in all state elections without obstacles.” Her position clearly repudiates the perceived view of Bill White and Travis County on military voting, and is worth commending.
Hopefully, the 2010 election will be the last in which the despicable practice of blocking soldiers’ votes in state and local elections is conducted in Texas.