Gilmer — Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd said Wednesday he found no criminal violations in the voting irregularities in Tuesday's Republican runoff for Precinct 1 county commissioner.
Byrd also said the election could be voided only if the errors are shown to have “materially affected” the outcome.
Incumbent James Crittenden, who trailed county employee Paula Gentry by a 319-vote margin of 798-479 in complete, unofficial returns, said Wednesday that “I am still considering” bringing a court challenge to the election aimed at forcing it to be held again.
“I want to evaluate everything” first, Crittenden said.
Byrd said Tuesday night it appeared the Precinct 1 commissioner election would be voided and held again because the wrong ballots were erroneously given to some voters at one polling place in that precinct.
In a news release Wednesday, he said, “At this time, there are only a handful of voters that have been identified with irregularities of voting in wrong precincts.
“Further, our main concern was to make sure that there was no tampering with ballots or the vote during this election. At this time, there appear to be no criminal violations,” Byrd said.
On Tuesday night, Byrd had said he confirmed that some voters at the county “rock building” in Gilmer received ballots that did not have the race between Crittenden and Ms. Gentry. He said then he had not yet determined the “extent” of the error, but it appears “they're going to end up having to have this (commissioner) election over again.”
The errors in Upshur County Tuesday arose at a polling place — the county “rock building” in Gilmer — where consolidation of voting boxes resulted in voters from four precincts all voting at one location, said Cynthia Ridgeway, an Upshur County Republican official who won her runoff Tuesday for county GOP chairman.
In his news release, Byrd said, “There were a handful of individuals that voted in voting box 20 that should have been in voting box one. Therefore, Commissioner Crittenden's name and Paula Gentry were not on that ballot as voting box 20 is outside Commissioner Precinct One.
“There is at least one individual that has been identified that voted in Precinct One that was not registered to vote in One,” Byrd added.
“The confusion lies in the redistricting and changes to voting precincts that occurred this year as a result of the latest census data,” the district attorney said. “We are continuing to gather all facts to determine how these irregularities occurred.”
Byrd said the Amarillo appellate court ruled that “to set aside the outcome of an election, the contestant must prove by clear and convincing evidence that a violation of the Election Code occurred, and it materially affected the outcome of the election.”
Word of the election irregularities in Gilmer surfaced even before the polls closed Tuesday night. As she awaited the final returns that evening at the Upshur County Courthouse, Ms. Gentry said she was “just ready” if she won, and the election was challenged in court.
“I'll be continuing to be doing what I've been doing—knocking doors,” said Ms. Gentry, an employee in the Gladewater branch of the Upshur County Tax Assessor-Collector's office. “I didn't plan on being in the eternal race,” she said laughingly.
Ms. Gentry has worked for the tax office 17 years, 10 of them in the Gladewater branch. Crittenden was seeking reelection to a third four-year term. He had led Ms. Gentry in the May 29 primary election by more than 50 votes in a five-candidate field.