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Elections Administrator John Oldham, right, speaks during an Oct. 23 news conference at the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land. (Photo by Stefan Modrich)

By STEFAN MODRICH 

smodrich@fortbendstar.com

As Missouri City residents prepare to make their voices heard at the polls in Saturday’s runoff election for mayor and a city council seat, the city is still in a dispute with Fort Bend County over the handling of the election.

City officials filed a lawsuit against the county Dec. 2 regarding what the city alleged were “ongoing voting irregularities” and “disenfranchising citizens” in the county’s handling of the 2020 election cycle, most recently with the early voting period for the runoff election that ends Saturday. In response, the county extended its hours for the final few days of early voting, which started Nov. 30 and ended Tuesday.

At issue, among other complaints by the city, was a discrepancy with Fort Bend County about the number of early voting locations for Missouri City’s Harris County residents. City officials said they were told its Harris County residents could utilize all three early voting locations, but those voters could only cast early ballots at the Fondren Park Community Center.

Missouri City officials said in a Dec. 5 news release that the city secretary’s office paid $11,256.01 to have 378 mail-in ballots overnighted to their Harris County residents. City officials said residents told them they had not yet received their ballots from the county.

The city said residents should have received their ballots by Monday. Saturday is the deadline for a mail-in ballot to be postmarked in order for it to be accepted.

Also, the city said in a Dec. 4 news release that it had reached an agreement with Fort Bend County to extend early voting hours for Dec. 5-8 at all polling locations in Missouri City.

The following is the full list of Election Day polling places for the Missouri City and Stafford runoffs:

  • Fondren Park Community Center, 11802 McLain Blvd., Houston
  • Hightower High School, 3333 Hurricane Ln., Missouri City
  • Missouri City Community Center, 1522 Texas Parkway
  • Quail Valley Fund Office, 3603 Glenn Lakes Ln., Missouri City
  • Stafford City Hall, 2610 S. Main St.

Missouri City residents registered in Harris County must vote at the Fondren Park Community Center. Stafford residents registered in Harris County must vote at Stafford City Hall.

Fort Bend County residents of Missouri City or Stafford may vote at any one of the five locations.

The Fort Bend Star obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which alleges the county violated Article III of a contract between the city and county. Article III of the agreement states that “voters from Political Subdivision participating in the Joint Election may cast a ballot at any polling location open for the election.”

The city alleges John Oldham, the county’s elections administrator, confirmed Nov. 17 that three early voting locations would be available. The city said Oldham notified them Dec. 1 that the city’s Harris County residents would only be able to vote early at one location: the Missouri City Community Center.

The city said this contradicted Oldham’s directive issued Nov. 17, which the city said would have allowed Harris County residents to cast early votes at the Community Center, the Quail Valley Fund Office and Stafford City Hall. Missouri City’s Harris County residents ended up being able to vote early at those locations, but only by provisional ballot.

Oldham said this was a result of a communication issue, and that he and the county did not make clear that Harris County voters were assigned one location as he said has been the case in previous runoff elections.

The main issue the city said its litigation will address is the allegation that the county is in breach of its contract with the city, alleging that the breach has resulted in the disenfranchisement of Missouri City voters in Harris County Precinct 506, who are predominantly African-American.

Attempts to reach the Fort Bend County Clerk’s Office and the City Secretary’s office were not successful.

Oldham said the county allowing Harris County voters to vote at a Fort Bend County precinct is both a cost savings to taxpayers and streamlines the election process.

He said Fort Bend County does not have an electronic poll book of Harris County voters. Without such a record, Oldham said there is nothing preventing Harris County voters from voting at each location, which is the reason for limiting them to a single location.

The release from the city further claimed that “residents lodged grievances with the City on the first day of early voting — Monday, Nov. 30 – complaining that when they attempted to early vote at the Stafford polling location, they were turned away by Fort Bend County staff, in violation of their constitutional right.”

The city also said this year’s election cycle has been “continuously marked by issues,” citing a mail-in ballot error in October, when several residents reported they received ballots that were missing the city’s municipal elections, as well as the electronic poll book malfunction on the first day of early voting Oct. 13.

Furthermore, the city claimed there was a “lack of transparency for poll workers who complained to the city that they were denied access by county officials during the final tabulation of votes,” and listed the re-tabulation of more than 10,000 ballots from the Smart Financial Centre, the county’s mega-polling site in Sugar Land, among its reasons for the lawsuit.

None of the candidates for mayor, including incumbent Yolanda Ford and challenger Robin Elackatt, received enough votes in the Nov. 3 general election to meet the 50 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff.

Likewise, no candidate in the race for City Council At-Large Position 2 received at least 50 percent of the vote. Incumbent Chris Preston is facing challenger Lynn Clouser in the runoff.

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