A long-delayed Houston runoff election could be on the ballot soon, after a Texas appeals court on Tuesday affirmed a lower court’s ruling to deny an election contest.
The runoff election for the Houston City Council District B seat has been delayed since last November, when the third-place candidate, Renee Jefferson-Smith, contested the outcome of the general election.
Tuesday’s ruling rejected Jefferson-Smith’s claim that Bailey wasn’t eligible to run because of a felony conviction on her record. More than a decade ago, Bailey was convicted of theft.
The appellate ruling found that Jefferson-Smith did not sufficiently establish Bailey’s ineligibility, and now paves the way for the two top vote-getters from November, Tarsha Jackson and Cynthia Bailey, to be on the ballot.
Jefferson-Smith’s lawsuit raised questions about Texas’s law on eligibility. The state election code says: “A finally convicted felon is not eligible to be a candidate for public elected office in this state unless they have been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.”
But what it means to be released from the “resulting disabilities” isn’t clearly defined, legal experts say.
In November, District B residents rallied at Houston City Hall demanding the race be on the December runoff ballot. Jackson, along with her opponent Bailey and the current District B Council Member Jerry Davis, argued Bailey had a right to run.
“It just says a lot about the moment that we’re in right now in criminal justice reform that we really need to start looking broadly not just at bail reform but at true second chances,” Jackson said at the time.
Jefferson-Smith can still appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. Without another appeal, the runoff election could be held as early as October. After the legal challenge is resolved, Harris County requires seven weeks notice before the election can be held.
Houston held elections in 2019 for all 16 council seats. As a term-limited council member, Davis wasn’t eligible to run again, but he’s stayed on until a new council member is elected.
“I do hope that the courts take action because this seat is not mine,” Davis said in January at the council inauguration ceremony. “This seat belongs to the people. And there’s a council member out there in District B that needs to sit in this seat.”