Two years later, judge orders new election for Harris County judicial seat

Voters cast their ballots at the West Gray Multiservice Center during Election Day on Nov. 7, 2023, in Houston. (Annie Mulligan For The Texas Tribune, Annie Mulligan For The Texas Tribune)

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A judge ordered Harris County to hold a new election for the 180th District Court judge after Republican candidate Tami Pierce, who narrowly lost to Democratic Judge DaSean Jones, filed a lawsuit challenging the results. Jones won by a margin of 449 votes in 2022.

Judge David Peeples, a visiting judge from Bexar County, issued the order Wednesday in the 165th District Court, first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

Peeples ordered the new election after upholding the results in 20 other 2022 election challenges filed by unsuccessful Republican candidates in Harris County. He said the narrow margin of the Jones-Pierce race indicated the true outcome could not be determined.

Peeples said in his ruling that 1,430 illegal votes were cast in the judicial race, though it’s not clear which candidate received the majority of those ballots.

Oliver Brown, Jones’ lawyer, said in a statement they will appeal the ruling. Brown said he expects “it will be overturned because Pierce did not meet the legal standard.”

Paul Simpson, Pierce’s lawyer, said in a statement that he hoped Jones would not appeal and allow Harris County voters to participate in a new election.

“We are gratified by the court’s judgment that Tami Pierce deserves a new election,” Simpson said. “Voluminous, detailed evidence compiled by witness Steve Carlin and dozens of other volunteers revealed many problems with Harris County’s troubled November 2022 election.”

Jones was first elected to the 180th District Court in 2018. He recently won the Democratic primary for Place 2 on the Texas Supreme Court and he faces Republican Jimmy Blacklock, who currently holds the seat.

In the findings of fact and conclusions of law, Peeples said 983 votes cast in the 2022 race were determined to be invalid because voters lived outside Harris County or had other residency-related issues. Additionally, 445 voters did not show a valid form of photo identification and 48 mail ballots lacked required signatures or were not received before the deadline.

More than a year after Pierce filed the election contest, the court ordered Jones to pay Pierce more than $65,000 in attorney fees, which Peeples said was reasonable given Jones’ motion to dismiss the case.

“This court held that Jones’s motion to dismiss was without merit and frivolous,” Peeples wrote, noting that the ruling to dismiss the case was affirmed by the First Court of Appeals.

Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel celebrated Pierce’s legal victory in a Wednesday statement.

“Judge Peeples’s decision to order a new election confirms what the Harris County GOP has been saying since 2022 — The previous election administrations’ handling of our elections was beyond negligent, resulting in voters’ confidence in our elections being damaged,” Siegel said.

Among the 2022 election challenges that failed, Peeples ruled in favor of 15 defendants and four Republican challengers voluntarily dismissed their cases. In another close judicial race, Peeples upheld the outcome in the 189th judicial district court race, but he found that Harris County’s elections office made mistakes. Democrat Tamika Craft beat out Republican candidate Erin Lunceford by 2,743 votes in that race.

The case is just one example of Texas’ never-ending elections, which experts argue threaten voter confidence.

Brown, Jones’ lawyer, echoed some of those concerns, arguing Texas Election Code puts the onus of defending election results on candidates instead of holding the government responsible.

“I’m certain in 2024 we will see more challenges than ever before because our government is failing to protect democracy,” Brown said in a statement.

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