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By STEFAN MODRICH 

smodrich@fortbendstar.com

Missouri City officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Fort Bend County regarding what they allege are “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 city’s Dec. 12 runoff election.

Early voting began Nov. 30 and runs through Dec. 8.

The Fort Bend Star obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which alleges that 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 on Nov. 17 that three early voting locations would be available. The city said Oldham notified them Tuesday that the city’s Harris County residents would only be able to vote early at one location: the Missouri City Community Center at 1522 Texas Parkway.

The city said this directly contradicted Oldham’s directive issued on 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 at 3603 Glenn Lakes Lane, and Stafford City Hall at 2610 South Main Street.

Mayor Yolanda Ford said in a Dec. 2 Facebook post and Oldham confirmed that Harris County residents were able to vote by provisional ballot at all three early voting locations.

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 claims 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 that 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 on 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 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 will face off with challenger Lynn Clouser in the runoff.

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