“Something is wrong” or “A lot of smoke”
Visiting judge Tim Womack of 307th District Court heard two days of testimony last week in the case of Kyle Barrett vs. James Strain in a lawsuit over the Republican primary of the Bowie County Commissioners Court Precinct 3 seat, in which Strain was decided the winner by less than 30 votes.
Contestee Kyle Barrett filed suit against the incumbent in March’s primary election, James Strain, citing mishandling of ballots, electioneering at one polling place, and discrepancies in ballot numbers throughout early voting and election day. Counsel for Barrett said in opening statements, that while the case reads as Barrett vs. Strain, that a suit against Strain was Barrett’s only judicial recourse in hopes of winning a new election, stating, “There is a difference in mathematical errors, and something being inherently wrong. We are here because something is wrong.”
Testimony from election judges consistently blamed judge/clerk inexperience and new technology for discrepancies in paperwork filed, incorrect paperwork, and the number of ballots turned in to Bowie County Central Count.
According to testimony, some seals were broken or not attached properly, and procedures followed were “historic” to the procedures Bowie County has always followed, but not necessarily adherent to election code. One election clerk admitted to stating, while at the polling place, “I would never vote for Kyle Barrett because he is a homosexual.” Although she stated that only the Democratic Party election workers could hear her statement, a pair of voters testified to have heard her make the same statement.
Bowie County Elections Administrator/Voter Registrar Pat McCoy didn’t have a lot of answers for the discrepancies in numbers. He cited several hypothetical situations in which votes could have been recorded incorrectly, but had no specific explanations for the differences found in the recount and in the inspection by Barrett’s legal team.
McCoy also stated he had had no formal training in elections administration at the time of the March election, but had done extensive research on his own about policy and procedure. McCoy spent almost eight hours on the witness stand, explaining, sometimes tediously, the procedures in voting, and how those votes are secured and counted. He also stated that the party election judges and clerks are appointed by the respective political parties, and it is not within his job description to audit or evaluate the performance of these election officials.
Bowie County Judge Bobby Howell sat in for most of the trial, stating that the outcome would directly impact Bowie County. “This trial could potentially have a great effect on Bowie County,” he said. “Though the financial burden of a new trial would primarily fall on the Bowie County Republican Party, the County Commissioner’s seats are very important positions. Also, I feel like this trial was an opportunity for me to learn the voting process and procedures, and take the necessary measures to correct any mistakes before the general election in November. However, that said, I feel there are always going to be human errors involved, especially in a process that people complete so infrequently.”
After two full days of testimony by witnesses called by the Contestee, Judge Tim Womack ordered that the case be continued on July 9 for one day only. At that time, Strain’s legal team will have the opportunity to contest Barrett’s claims, which, in opening statements, Counsel for the Contestant called “A lot of smoke.”