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Rejection of candidate from Woodlands board election spurs changes

December 17, 2018

The removal from the ballot of a person who had filed candidate papers to run in the Nov. 6 Woodlands Township Board of Directors election has spurred a series of minor changes to how the township handles candidate filing applications and notifications if the application is rejected.

In a 6-1 vote during the Dec. 5 meeting of the township board, small changes to the election procedures — focused on candidate applications and notification — were approved. Township Director Bruce Rieser voted no on the proposed changes, saying he was, “very uncomfortable with this.”

The changes were spurred by the removal of Luis Granados, a nearly 30-year resident of The Woodlands, from the Nov. 6 ballot. Granados had filed candidate papers in August to contest incumbent Director John Anthony Brown. Granados, however, did not fill out two critical boxes on his candidate filing form where the length of his residency in both Texas and The Woodlands were required to be entered by him.

On Wednesday, during the township’s only meeting in December, the issue came to the forefront of discussions at the request of township Director John McMullan, who had asked to have an agenda item on the schedule to discuss the situation and possibly develop new or amended township election policies to avoid another incident such as what happened to Granados.

Granados application was accepted by township officials in August when he submitted it, and his name was then listed on the township’s website in the area where the names of candidates for the election are updated daily during the filing period.

However, prior to administering the annual draw for ballot places, Granados was informed by township officials that his candidate filing application had been rejected by officials at the Texas Secretary of State office because he had not filled out the residency boxes. Granados’ name was taken off the Nov. 6 ballot, and in the subsequent election, Brown — then running unopposed — was re-elected with 100 percent of the votes.

The removal of his name from the ballot surprised Granados, who said in an interview with The Villager that he had asked an employee of the township — an unidentified employee who does courtesy notarization of the candidate forms — whether he needed to fill in the boxes with his length of residency or not. The woman, Granados claimed, said he could leave the boxes blank. He turned in the form, it was notarized and accepted.

After he was informed he had been removed, Granados said he was not to blame for the incident and cited the township employee, as well as another official —Karen Dempsey — as being responsible for the blank boxes. Granados’ claims were contested by township officials, with Nick Wolda — the spokesperson for The Woodlands— telling The Villager that it is illegal for township officials to give candidates any advice about applications. Wolda also said the township did not order Granados’ name removed from the ballot, but said it was officials from the Secretary of State’s office.

Dempsey said the incident was unfortunate due to the timing of the rejection.

“We did not notice this fatal flaw (with the application) until the drawing,” Dempsey told the board in reference to the timing of Granados’ being removed from the ballot.

Granados filed an appeal of his removal with the Texas Secretary of State office in October, but it was rejected by state officials who said there was no indication of any foul play or criminal election activity. Because no wrong-doing was found by state officials, Granados’ appeal was rejected and not forwarded to the state Attorney General for further investigation.

Township board Chairman Gordy Bunch said the incident is the first of its kind in township history, as never before had a candidate been removed from the ballot for any township election.

“This is the only time this has happened in the history of The Woodlands,” Bunch said. “Nobody here wants to disenfranchise anyone.”

McMullan said he was disappointed with the incident, especially because Granados’ name had been listed as an official candidate on the township website, which affected residents who may have thought he was a candidate and not been aware he’d been removed. McMullan also said he wanted better procedures in place to prevent such an incident from occuring again.

“This is not about one candidate,” McMullan pleaded. “A much larger group of people was affected by this. Let’s make the procedure better.”

Township President Don Norrell said he had developed a new plan that would hopefully prevent an incident like what happened to Granados from happening again in the future. The new policy will have two township staff members who are familiar with election law and procedures review all applications and focus on the non-optional areas of the form that must be filled in by a candidate.

Under the proposal, township officials will send a notice by mail to applicants who have filled out an incomplete form informing them it had been rejected, although, Norrell said, officials cannot state why the application was rejected. The township will also try to notify applicants of a rejected form by other means, such as a telephone call or an email.

Norrell said the names of candidates who have filed that are posted online will also have a disclaimer that the list is unofficial and the candidate names only mean they’ve submitted an application. He also said after the ballot drawing is completed, then the online list will indicate that the candidates are officially candidates.

“We will still not give advice to applicants,” Norrell stressed, referring to laws prohibiting such assistance. “We will review (applications) and if we have sufficient time, we will get that (rejected application) back to the applicant.”

jeff.forward@chron.com

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