By Will Johnson
HOUSTON COUNTY – The controversy surrounding the Nov. 7 election in Houston County continued on Thursday, Nov. 16 during a meeting of the Houston County Commissioners Court.
Before the votes had even been counted on Nov. 7, rumblings of ballot irregularities were heard at the Houston County Courthouse. As the rumblings and complaints about the election became louder, the Houston County Election Commission recommended the termination of Elections Administrator Gloria Swor on Monday, Nov. 13.
As the commissioners prepared to canvas the votes during the Nov. 16 meeting, Precinct Two Commissioner Willie Kitchen addressed the matter. Kitchen facilitated the Thursday meeting in the absence of County Judge Jim Lovell who was at a required conference for county judges.
“There is /was some controversy over the election and the way it was held. I’m sure most of you are here with the belief that the commissioners’ court has some type of authority when we canvass the votes,” Kitchen informed the packed courtroom.
The commissioner explained he had done some research on the matter and requested County Attorney Daphne Session to explain what the duties of the commissioners were as the canvassing body.
“You are supposed to review the tally that came in from the precincts. You have to do that by statute. You are required to canvass the returns no later than the 11th day after the election. You have to do that so the County Clerk (Bridget Lamb) can make her report to the (Texas) Secretary of State,” she said.
“If there are any discrepancies, you can make corrections but you still have to canvass and send that in. If there was a request for a recount, you still have to canvass. You can make that notation, but the numbers still have to go in. So you are to review and scrutinize but you have to look at those precinct counts to be submitted to the Secretary of State,” Session explained.
Kitchen sought clarification and commented, “Daphne, the way I understand this is – our duty is about numbers, not anything to do with ballots or anything of that nature.”
The county attorney said Kitchen was right in his assessment.
“There are tally sheets from each polling precinct which have the number of voters from each precinct. Our duty is to make sure the numbers match the tally sheets. We do not have the authority to set aside the election, whatsoever. If the numbers don’t match, we correct that and our decision goes in,” Kitchen added.
A question about who does have the authority to set aside the election results was asked.
Session replied perhaps it was the Secretary of State but added as of Nov. 16, no one had filed a petition for a recount.
Houston County Democratic Party Chair Sharon Berry also commented on the matter.
“Normally before it gets here (to commissioners court), we would have a committee – with equal representation – and we would have gone in there and we would have gone into more detail. Then, they (commissioners) would have approved it. They can only approve the numbers,” Berry said.
Following several minutes of discussion, the commissioners approved the canvass as completed with some corrections.
As the meeting continued, the recommended termination of Houston County Elections Administrator Gloria Swor was addressed by the court.
Swor had been recommended for termination by the Houston County Election Commission on Monday, Nov. 13. While the recommendation was made by the commission, the commissioners’ court had the final say on the matter.
Before the issue was voted on, the court heard arguments for a nullification of the election based on the termination of Swor.
Kitchen said the court had not received any type of formal complaint and added nothing had been put in writing.
“Everything we have heard has been word of mouth. There is no documentation, no signed petition from a group of people saying this was wrong. All we have right now are allegations. I don’t think we can do anything until we have something concrete,” he said.
Before a vote was taken on the elections administrator, County Clerk Bridget Lamb commented on the matter.
“Mrs. Swor was not terminated because of the election results. She was terminated because of the procedures she used and personnel issues. It didn’t have anything to do with the election results. It was just the way she handled it. The way she went about it,” Lamb said.
A motion was made, seconded and unanimously approved to accept the recommendations of the Election Commission and terminate Swor from her position as Elections Administrator.
In other matters brought before the court:
- The commissioners approved the minutes from previous meetings.
- The payment of bills and expenses incurred by the county were approved.
- Budget amendments were approved by the court.
- The County Treasurer’s and Compensatory Time reports were received as information by the commissioners.
- The court approved the salary of a part-time employee in the Houston County Auditor’s office.
- A bond endorsement increase for the County Court-at-Law Judge was approved by the commissioners.
- Randy Worsham was appointed as a replacement member to the Human Resources Committee.
- A contract with Windstream was amended to reflect a price increase from $53.99 per month to $80.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.