Recount in Texas House District

As Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s campaign lambasted the hand recount in Florida, a Texas Republican is hoping a manual recount could help win him a seat in the State House of Representatives. And they’ll be checking chads.

A bipartisan group of residents in Texas’s northeastern Smith County will gather Monday to begin counting ballots by hand. But instead of relying on a machine count, the group will use a method endorsed in a 1997 law signed by Bush.

Republican candidate Bill Hollowell was defeated in Nov. 7’s election by incumbent Democratic Representative Bob Glaze of Gilmer.

In the first count, Glaze received 21,496 votes to Hollowell’s 19,416 — winning by 2,080 votes, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

On Monday, the Secretary of State approved Hollowell’s request for a recount in Texas House District 5, which includes Smith, Upshur and Van Zandt counties.

A committee of 12 registered voters, six Republicans and six Democrats chosen by a judge, will carry out the recount in Smith County. Each of the three counties will have its own bipartisan recounting committee. The recount must be completed in all three counties by Nov. 20, said Jane Dees, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State.

A Texas Voter’s True Intent

To determine voter’s true intent, Smith County ballot counters will hold some 11,000 punch cards to the light and stare through holes. They will inspect partly dislodged, dimpled, and so called “pregnant” chads. Ballot counting rooms in District 5 are likely to bear a striking resemblance to the images on television of vote counters examining punch cards in Broward County, Fla. — one of the four heavily democratic counties in which the Gore campaign is seeking a manual recount.

Unlike Florida, where ballot counting standards are at individual counties’ discretion, Texas has a statewide standard for manual counts. The rules for recounting ballots by hand are included in Texas’s 700-page Election Code and are similar to the standards currently being used in Broward County, Fla.

The recount standards, signed into law by Bush in 1997, state “a manual recount shall be conducted in preference to an electronic recount.”

Florida’s 25 Electoral College votes could determine this year’s presidential election. With unofficial numbers from Oregon and New Mexico, Gore currently leads Bush in the Electoral College tally 267 to 246, with only Florida undecided.

Texas Chads

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who is overseeing the Bush campaign’s recount monitoring efforts in Florida, defended the Texas manual recount provision last week by saying it is subject “to uniform rules and standards.”

By contrast, he said in Florida, “the manual vote count sought by the Gore campaign would not be more accurate than an automated count. … Human error, individual subjectivity and actions to ‘determine the voter intent,’ would replace precision machinery.”

The statute concerning manual recounts is in section 127:130 of the state Election Code. It says a vote must be counted if “at least two corners of the chad are detached” and “light is visible through the hole.”

But the rest of the statute is slightly more nebulous. It says votes must also be counted if “an indentation on the chad from the stylus or other object is present and indicates a clearly ascertainable intent of the voter to vote” or the chad “reflects by other means a clearly ascertainable intent of the voter to vote.”

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