The door hasn't closed just yet on the Liberty County Precinct 4 commissioner’s race after candidate Craig McNair — who lost by just five votes — filed a lawsuit claiming election fraud.
The suit alleges that during the March 1 Republican Party primary, 17 voters cast ballots in the wrong precinct, giving McNair’s opponent, incumbent Leon Wilson, a narrow victory.
The petition, which describes the 17 votes as “illegal,” is asking the court to toss the election and set a new one.
At least one GOP official said there was nothing unlawful about the votes, but instead suggested the controversy could be tied to redistricting, which is when voting districts are redrawn by lawmakers to reflect population growth.
“While neither myself nor my family consider ourselves litigious, after prayerful consideration and meaningful consult, my family and I made the difficult decision to file a lawsuit to expose what I believe to be election fraud in Liberty County,” McNair said in a statement to The Vindicator.
“In my contested race for the Republican Party nomination for the Liberty County commissioners Precinct 4 election, the canvassing authority reported a mere five (5) vote difference between me and my opponent,” he added.
The candidate e-filed the petition just before the close of business March 28 with District Clerk Delia Sellers, with the legal action currently set on the docket of 253rd state District Judge Chap Cain.
Wilson downplayed McNair’s claim.
“First, I want to thank everyone who supported me in the March primary election. The election was held, and voters made their decision. Now, a lawsuit has been filed by the opponent Craig McNair and by all appearances, he wants to take your voice and vote away,” Wilson said.
The suit also provides notice to the "Presiding Officer of the Final Canvassing Authority," which lists Liberty County Elections Administrator Klint Bush.
However, Liberty County officials contend the election process followed all protocols.
“The Liberty County elections administrator has been made aware that a candidate has filed an election contest in a narrowly won primary election held on March 1, 2022. The Liberty County Office of Elections Administration is confident that the election was conducted according to the Texas Election Code,” County Attorney Matthew Poston said in a statement.
GOP officials said there could be an issue with naming Bush in the action, because the party contracted the county’s services to conduct the election. However, the final canvassing — or a certification of the votes — was done by the party itself March 10 under the auspices of Chair Emily Cook.
Bush turned over results on March 4 to the GOP, just as he did for the Democratic Party.
"Election fraud is the intentional act of casting an illegal ballot. Could 17 people's addresses and precinct assignments have been incorrect due to redrawing of the lines?” Cook said in a prepared statement. “Possibly, and a new election could be ordered on that basis. But such a situation is not fraud, and any new election has to be ordered by a court after a trial, which has not yet occurred.”
McNair’s suit alleges “illegal votes” were prompted by mistakes on the voter rolls due to redistricting.
“Under the Texas Election Code, because there are more than triple the number of ineligible votes in the total count than the purported margin of difference, a new election will be required to be conducted,” he added.
Commissioners approved the realignment of voting districts on Oct. 26, 2021, after the 2020 U.S. Census recorded 86,994 residents in the county. That process resulted in redistributing the population in the four commissioner's precincts, roughly coming in at around 21,749 per precinct.
The suit explains that some voters changed from one precinct to another, causing errors at the ballot box.
Of the 17 voters, 13 have signed declarations, and four did not, but the suit states all of their identities have been secured.
“None of these specific voters live within the boundaries of Precinct 4 as a result of the redistricting which took place in October of 2021,” the suit states.
Citing privacy rights, the suit does not name the voters.
Some officials believe McNair’s challenge may have come too late, citing a provision in the state election code stipulating a contender questioning an election must file a claim within 15 days of when the results are public.
That would have made the final date to ask for a new election Friday, March 25.
Election turnovers after the fact are rare, according to political experts.
“If successful, another election would have to be held in that particular race, and we would have to help inform and encourage voters to turn out,” Cook said.
She added the party is up to the challenge if a court order is issued.
“I look forward to a new election where every eligible vote is cast and counted while every ineligible vote is excluded from the final count,” McNair said. “That’s the only way to ensure that everyone can have confidence in the outcome of this race.”
For his part, incumbent Wilson believes the election results already speak for themselves, but he is ready for a court battle if need be.
“I will continue to work hard and continue to serve all the people of Liberty County and Precinct 4 and will vigorously defend against this lawsuit for you and your vote and the result of the election,” Wilson concluded.