As you may recall, there was a hotly-contested city council election in the small town of Helotes, just northwest of San Antonio, back in May. The main issue was the proposed development of a Wal-Mart Supercenter at an environmentally- and scenically-sensitive location, at the corner of Highway 16 and Scenic Loop Road. In the end, three Wal-Mart-supporting incumbents were ousted by three Wal-Mart-opposing candidates. In two cases, the margin, after a recount, was a mere 7 votes (out of around 1300).
Now, the two incumbents who lost by that margin are filing a lawsuit over the results:
Saying it's just something that has to be done, former Helotes Mayor Steve Hodges and former Councilman Pat Wootton are contesting the results of the May 7 election in court.
A recount showed both lost their seats by seven votes, but in a petition submitted June 23 and naming Mayor Jon Allan and Councilman Stuart Birnbaum as contestees, Hodges and Wootton allege a number of people who voted weren't eligible because they didn't live in the city at the time or were convicted felons. They also contend others were turned away who should have been allowed to vote.
Birnbaum was out of town and didn't return phone calls, but Allan called the move a "huge mistake."
"We had a difficult election and we have a lot of things on our plate, including Wal-Mart," Allan said. "To contest the election is just going to reopen wounds. The thing we need to be able to do in this city is bring people together, and this is not the way to do it."
Among other things, the petition states there is evidence that election officials or others involved in the administration of the election "prevented eligible voters from voting, failed to count legal votes and/or engaged in other fraud or illegal conduct or made mistakes." This affected the election outcome, the suit states.
It calls for another election if the "true" outcome of the election can't be determined.
"I think we've come up with enough inconsistencies of the records of people who voted," Wootton said. "I'm not saying there's any intentional fraud, but there's enough questionable voters out there that maybe shouldn't have voted. We want to make sure everything is on the up-and-up."
This is becoming reminiscent of the Vo-Heflin fight half a year ago over a Texas House seat from the Houston area. Talmadge Heflin, the entrenched Republican incumbent, lost to newcomer Democrat Hubert Vo, by 32 votes, and had a very hard time accepting that he lost. He made many allegations similar to those being forwarded by Hodges and Wooten in Helotes. He even had the advantage of being able to mount his election challenged in a state House controlled by his own party. Yet he still failed.
So it would appear that the chances that the Wal-Mart supporters will overturn the election of Allan and Birnbaum in Helotes are slim to none. And note that the margin of seven votes is over half of a percent and so, while small, is not quite as razor-thin as it might first appear.
That is more than Al Gore won by in 2000, after all.