Hamilton, Jones face off in court

Published 9:58 am Tuesday, March 20, 2018

BEAUMONT — It’s a case of wait and see, a little while longer before Port Arthur will know whether a Port Arthur City Council special election will be scheduled in May.

Cal Jones, District 2 city councilman, and Tiffany Hamilton, former District 2 city councilwoman, were in court Monday in the 60th District Courtroom at the Jefferson County Courthouse to see who will represent the district.

Jones’ lawyer, Tom Kelley, and Hamilton’s attorney, Randall “Buck” Wood, have until Friday to give visiting Judge John Woolridge their paperwork in the case. He will then render a judgment.

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Hamilton is contesting the way votes were cast or divided in the May 2017 City Council election, as far as districts.

She said that there were people who live in her district, District 2, and whose identifications match their addresses, but were told they had to vote in District 1.

In fact, Fred Vernon Sr. and Fred Vernon II and Eugene Tyler, friends of Hamilton, and Joseph and Cheryl Alpough, her great aunt and uncle, testified at the trial they were denied the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Some of the longest questions and answers Monday were with Ronald Campbell, a 12-year veteran election judge in Port Arthur elections.

He said election judges undergo two days of training every year in which they learn election law and procedures, checking in voters and working with the voting machines.

He said all voters are given a sample ballot, no exceptions as per city policy.

Campbell said on Election Day in May 2017, Vernon Sr. had a complaint with his ballot. Campbell said he was a “problem voter”— someone who has a problem with the voting process and received an incorrect ballot. He said the confusion was over which precinct he lived in.

Voters who receive an incorrect ballot have three opportunities to make a correction:

  • When they receive the sample ballot
  • Raising their hand at the voting machine to ask a question
  • Pushing the review button on the voting machine and discovering a discrepancy.

Kelley asked if Vernon Sr. complained about his sample ballot, raised his hand or pushed the review button. Campbell answered he did not.

He said there was a “commotion” after his vote was cast and he said he received the wrong ballot. Both of them went to the city election map and discovered Vernon Sr. did indeed vote in the wrong precinct.

“It’s the voter’s responsibility to check their ballot and let us know right away if there’s anything wrong,” Campbell said. “Once the vote is cast, unfortunately, it can’t be corrected.”

Wood asked him if it was the election officials’ responsibility for voters to get the correct ballot. He added that there is no written code for voter responsibility.

“Do they have the right to assume elected officials have done their duties?” he asked.

Woolridge asked how provisional ballots work. Campbell said they are given to voters who moved away from the county, but moved back or they let their registration lapse. He added that Vernon Sr. already cast his ballot and he couldn’t use the provisional ballot.

Hamilton lost by three votes.