Runoff for Senate District 1 seat to be decided in coming days

Shown from left are James "Red" Brown, state Rep. Bryan Hughes, and state Rep. David Simpson. Hughes will face either Brown or Simpson in a runoff, but it won't be clear who until provisional ballots are verified and counted.

The candidate who faces state Rep. Bryan Hughes in the May 24 runoff for the Senate District 1 seat could be decided in the next few days. When the dust had settled on Election Day, March 1, no candidate in the three-way GOP race had a majority, so the top two vote-getters will go into a runoff.

But it's not yet clear who that is.

Hughes won 63,844 votes, or 47.98 percent of the vote. But state Rep. David Simpson and James "Red" Brown were nearly tied for second. Simpson had a lead of just 13 ballots, with 28,288 votes, or 21.26 percent, compared to Brown s 28,275 votes, or 21.25 percent. Provisional ballots and military ballots were not included in those totals.

"I don't know what to expect, but I hope that the result will change from where it was," Brown said. "It's certainly a unique situation - with 133,000 votes cast, we're down to 13. If people don't think that their vote counts, this is absolute proof that it does."

Simpson, who was reported to be in second - and to have earned a spot in the runoff - said he doesn't expect that to change.

"There's still not much that we know about the provisional ballots," Simpson said. "We're assuming nothing will change significantly, but we'll know more soon."

Provisional ballots could change that margin dramatically. The district covers all or part of 16 counties. In Smith County alone, 482 provisional ballots were cast, according to the Smith County Elections Administrator's office.

Voters are allowed to vote by provisional ballot when their registration cannot be verified or the voter does not present an acceptable form of photo ID. The voter then has six days to present an ID to the county registrar, and the voter is notified within 10 days if their vote was counted or rejected.

A Smith County Ballot Board is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to evaluate those ballots. That committee consists of two Republicans and two Democrats, according to Smith County Elections Administrator Karen Nelson.

"Since the election, we've had time in our office to look at why those [provisional] voters based on the information provided on the affidavit," she said. "Did they think they were registered? And were they? Did they register through DPS? Were they once registered and were erroneously taken off the list? We investigate and make our findings based on that. We send those to the ballot board, and they decide if that vote will or won't be counted. It's pretty clear cut."

The ballot board will work through the day, breaking for lunch, and when they're done, Ms. Nelson will feed the approved ballots into the computer.

"My hope is to get finished with this by close of business tomorrow," she said.

Gregg County could meet on Wednesday about its provisional ballots.

Depending on what the provisional ballots do to the outcome, Brown did not rule out seeking a recount.

"We're going to wait and take each step as we go along," he said. "My team, collectively, is waiting to see the outcome of this, and then we'll evaluate the next. A recount is certainly an option and something to think about, since it's so close."

There's a certain amount of human error that goes into hand-counting ballots, which still takes place in some counties. Recounts are done by computers, Brown said, and could remove some errors.

"But that's not something we've decided yet," he said of requesting a recount.

For his part, Hughes says he'll just keep campaigning.

"A lot of people volunteered, helped out and trusted us with their vote," Hughes said on Election Night. "With four strong candidates in the race and three of us on television, we never really thought it was going to be over on election night, but we're really encouraged by the numbers."

Early voting in the May 24 runoff begins May 16.

Staff writer Cory McCoy contributed to this report.


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