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An Account of the 1968 Democratic Primary Race

An Account of the 1968 Democratic Primary Race

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Published by Charlie Baird

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Published by: Charlie Baird on Feb 16, 2012
Copyright:Public Domain


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An Account of the 1968 Democratic Primary RaceFor State Representative, Place 4, Dallas County, Texasby Dick Reed
On the last day to file for the Democratic Primary in 1968, my wife, Colene Reed,delivered my application for candidacy for State Representative, Place 4, of DallasCounty and the required filing fee to the Dallas County Democratic Headquarters. Officeholders, candidates and other interested parties had gathered there to find out who hadfiled for various offices in the Democratic Primary. Among them was the incumbentState Representative for Place 4, John Field. Rep. Field, who was already intoxicated,reportedly became incensed when he learned that I had filed against him (rather thanfiling in one of the other 14 places for State Representative). Livid about having drawnan opponent, he collapsed and died of a fatal heart attack. After Representative Field’s sudden death and the passage of the filing deadline, I wasthe only Democrat who had filed in Place 4. According to the Election Code, I shouldhave been the Democratic nominee unless a “write-in” candidate announced and receivedmore votes than me in the Democratic Primary. However, Democratic County ChairmanJoe Rich ruled that a vacancy existed in Place 4 because of Field’s death despite the factthat I was a qualified candidate and had already filed for that place. After consulting withSenator Oscar Mauzy, I concluded that litigation of Chairman Rich’s interpretation of what constituted a vacancy was not a viable option because of the cost and time that itwould have involved. Consequently, Chairman Rich reopened the filing for Place 4 for an additional 14 days. During the ensuing fourteen-day period, B.W. Cruce, the former Mayor of Mesquite,withdrew his application for candidacy for a State Senate seat in east Dallas County andfiled for Place 4. (Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade’s brother, Jim Wade,was the incumbent State Senator in that district, and another candidate, Mike McKool,had also filed for that seat.) Then, Chairman Rich persuaded C.A. Gunn, a personalfriend of his, to file in Place 4. As a result of these developments, I had two opponents inthe Democratic Primary and was powerless to react. A public statement criticizing the process would have accomplished nothing. (According to Chairman Rich’s interpretationof what constituted a vacancy in the race for State Representative, Place 4, thewithdrawal of Senate candidate B.W. Cruce should have created a vacancy in the Senaterace. However, Chairman Rich elected to selectively apply his interpretation of whatconstituted a vacancy to only the State House race.) As a result, I went from beingunopposed, to having two opponents in the Democratic Primary, as well as one potentialopponent in the Republican Primary. The abuse of power by Chairman Rich did not end at that point. After all the votes had been cast on Election Day, there was concerted effort to steal enough votes from me tokeep me out of the runoff. On election night, when the returns were coming in, thereporting of votes in my race was suddenly discontinued, even though reportingcontinued in all other races. Then, at around 10:00 p.m. a report was flashed on the TV
screen that there was a tie in the Place 4 race between Dick Reed and C.A. Gunn for arun-off spot, the numbers being exactly the same. B.W. Cruce led the ticket with 46% of the votes cast. That was the way it ended on Saturday night, and there was no additionalreporting on the race on Sunday. Both Dallas newspapers reported that C.A. Gunn andDick Reed were tied for the run-off spot. It was suggested that if no change occurredduring the official canvassing of the vote, that a flip of a coin would determine the winner of the runoff spot. The Canvassing Committee was scheduled to meet on Sunday morning to transfer thenumbers that had been recorded by the individual precinct election judges on official ballot sheets—numbers that had been extracted from the back of each of the votingmachines—to a countywide spreadsheet. The large spreadsheet contained the vote totalsfor each race in every precinct in the county.Since I was unable to obtain any new information, I dropped in on the CanvassingCommittee, thinking its members would be there going over the precinct results. To mysurprise, only one person was there: the chairman of the Canvassing Committee. Hestated that he had not finished transferring the precinct totals to the countywidespreadsheets but the task would be completed in time for the meeting of the DemocraticExecutive Committee later that week. A couple of days later I learned that thecanvassing committee had resolved the earlier-reported tie in favor of C.A. Gunn as thewinner of the run-off spot. Sure enough, when the canvassing had been completed, thecommittee announced that C.A. Gunn had won the run-off spot by some 240 votes andthat he was to be certified by the County Executive Committee at its next meeting. Based upon my review of the unofficial ballot sheets at the County Clerk’s office, Ialready knew that the canvassing committees report was incorrect and that I, rather thanC.A. Gunn, was the apparent winner of the runoff spot. At my request, Senator Mauzydrafted a motion to delay the certification of the results in my race until further opportunity to review the results from the official ballot sheets, which were held byCounty Clerk Tom Ellis. I delivered the motion to avoid certification in my race to theCounty Democratic Chairman, Joe Rich. The evening that the Executive Committee had assembled to certify the results, ChairmanRich gave a speech before the Executive Committee about what a sore loser I was anddeclined me any opportunity to respond to his remarks. Nevertheless, the ExecutiveCommittee refrained from certifying the results in my race pending a review of the voteson the counters on the back of the voting machines. County Clerk Tom Ellis was custodian of the official ballot sheets. In addition to theoriginal, there were two carbon copies of each ballot sheet—one for the precinct election judge and the other for the press or public to review on Election Night. Anyone whowished to do so could review the ballot sheets. Eight days had passed since the election,and everything was on hold pending my opportunity to view the actual ballot sheets andthe numbers on the voting machines. 
I had taken a two-week leave of absence from my job with Texas Instruments, and I hadexhausted all of my other leave time. Consequently, that Monday I asked my wife andmy older sister to go to the County Clerk’s office and view the official ballot sheets to seeif the unofficial results matched them. However, when they arrived at the County Clerk’soffice, Tom Ellis refused to permit them to view the official ballot sheets. My wife thencalled Senator Oscar Mauzy to see what could be done. Senator Mauzy told her that the County Clerk was required by law to allow them see theofficial ballots, and he reminded her that the Election Code provided for such freeaccess. He suggested that she go to the District Attorney’s office and talk to DistrictAttorney Henry Wade. Armed with a copy of the Election Code, my wife and sister wentto District Attorney Henry Wade’s office. My wife pointed out the provision in theElection Code to Mr. Wade, and he agreed that the County Clerk could not legally refuseto let them see the records. My wife asked the District Attorney if he would call Mr. Ellisand tell him that. He indicated that he would, but he did not offer to call immediately.My wife asked him if he would call while they were in his office so that they could makesure they would get to see the results once they got back to the County Clerk’s office.Mr. Wade said he would, and he picked up the phone and called County Clerk Tom Ellisand told him that they had a right to view the records.My wife and sister then returned to the County Clerk’s office. However, Tom Ellis stillrefused to allow them to examine the official ballot sheets, only making available thecarbon copies of the ballot sheets that were meant for the press and the public on electionnight. That night, after returning home from work and getting the report that they had beendenied access to the official ballot sheets, I called County Clerk Tom Ellis, who,surprisingly enough, was still in his office at 5:30 p.m. He was stuttering and said,“Dick, I am afraid that there is going to be a lawsuit in this race, and I simply cannot letthem see the official ballot sheets for fear that changes might be made to them. Iresponded by saying, “Tom, if we are denied an opportunity to see the official ballotsheets, I promise you there will be a lawsuit.” Tom then told me to come down in themorning to talk about it. My response to him was, “Tom, in the morning you look to theEast, and if the sun is rising, you expect to see me.” I had to get permission to leavework that morning because I had already used all of my leave time. County Clerk Tom Ellis still denied access to the official ballot sheets. After I reportedthis to Senator Mauzy, he sent Jay Vogel, one of his law partners, to meet with Ellis andnegotiate the viewing of the official ballot sheets. Tom finally agreed to let us see them, provided that we first sign a statement promising to not make any changes on the official ballot sheets. (Oddly enough, the Canvassing Committee had already made changes inthe numbers on the ballot sheets to the county wide spreadsheet.) Jay Vogel approved theagreement, and we signed the statement. When my wife and sister were able to examinethe official ballot sheets, it was obvious to them that I, rather than C.A. Gunn, had wonthe runoff spot. On the countywide spreadsheets the canvassing committee had actuallyreduced some of my precinct totals to zeros.

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