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Residency: a state of mind almost?

Courier, The (Conroe, TX) - June 20, 2010

Section: A
Page: A-10
Readability: >12 grade level (Lexile: 1440)
With the recent ruling by a state district judge in an election challenge involving the Woodlands Road Utility District, a little clarity has been
added to the states rules regarding voter residency.
A little. But not enough.
Based on clear and convincing evidence, a visiting state district court judge ruled Monday that 10 Montgomery County residents voted
fraudulently in The Woodlands Road Utility District No. 1 election and declared the three incumbent board members as the rightful
winners of the May 8 contest.
According to our story by Howard Roden, Senior District Judge P.K. Reiter issued his decision after a trio of challengers to the election
Richard McDuffee, Peter Goeddertz and Bill Berntsen each captured an at-large position of the RUDs board by a 10-2 margin. Their
victory prompted the three incumbents Gene Ed Miller, Bill Neill and Winton Davenport to file suit against the RUD May 11, alleging
those 10 votes were obtained illegally.
Prior to the May 8 election, the 10 individuals changed their voters registration address to 9333 Six Pines Drive in The Woodlands, the
location of a Residence Inn hotel. Eight of the individuals excluding Cook and Doyle made it clear during their testimony it was their
intent to establish the hotel as their residence and take control of the RUD board.
Their argument, which pushed the envelope on voter residency, was based in part on the sometimes confusing, sometimes vague, case
law and attorney general opinions that have built up over time.
And while claiming a hotel as a residence immediately prior to an election may be a stretch, its not the first or last time votes have been
cast in Texas under questionable circumstances. And local officials acknowledge the laws, which often have been intrepreted so loosely
that residency is seen as a state of mind, need clarification. In fact, in a statement released Saturday, losing Conroe City Council
Candidate Leo Hewett claimed there were instances in his election in which voters may have cast votes fraudulently claiming residence.
Hewett said in the statement that his legal teams have completed a review of the Conroe election and other Montgomery County
elections. Irregularities were discovered which could affect elections in Conroe and within the county, according to the statement, and
included the claim that there were voters who lived outside the city but claimed residency and voted in the election
Local officials acknowledge the law allows a great deal of latitude. I see why there are questions, said Montgomery County Elections
Administrator Carol Gaultney. They (voters in question) dont live in the city of Conroe, so why are they voting in the city? Stating that she
doesnt have the authority to reject a voters application and claims of residency, Gaultney said: I understand the questions, but we dont
understand those voters circumstances either.
First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant, in an interview prior to the judges ruling, said the law needs more clarity. I think it would be
helpful if the secretary of state would put forth some clear guidelines regarding the definition of residency, rather than leaving it as vague
as they have in prior opinions. That would be one place to start.
Record: 342304
Copyright: 2010 ASP Westward, L.P.