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Politics & Government

South Dallas City Council Candidate Contests Results of May 1 Election

Donald Parish Jr., who missed Saturday's runoff by just over 25 votes, has filed a petiton calling for an investigation and possibly a new election.
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Image by Bret Redman / Illustration by Emily Olson

A Dallas City Council candidate is contesting the results of the May 1 election that saw him locked out of Saturday’s runoff by just 28 votes, arguing that the hours-long closure of at least nine polling locations disenfranchised voters and eroded trust in local elections.

In a petition filed on May 21 and delivered to the county’s elections department Friday, South Dallas pastor Donald Parish Jr. calls for an investigation—and for a new election to be held if a Dallas County district court finds that the results are “rendered uncertain by fraud, unlawful activity, and/or other irregularities.”

“What I’d like to see happen is some transparency, and for us to get in and do a recount,” Parish said on the phone Monday morning. “And then for there to be some level of accountability so that this won’t happen again.”

Parish was one of eight candidates on the ballot in District 7 for the May 1 election. He finished third behind former City Council member Kevin Felder and the incumbent, Adam Bazaldua, who will hold on to his seat after winning about 64 percent of the 2,807 votes cast in the runoff. The much smaller runoff election, which featured about half of the more than 400 Dallas County polling locations opened last month, appeared to go smoothly.

That wasn’t the case on May 1, when at least nine polling locations, including several in District 7, opened hours late on Election Day. Elections officials blamed technical issues, overstretched poll workers, and organizational challenges, among other things. Dallas County Elections Administrator Michael Scarpello told me last month that despite the hiccups, “there were no obvious problems as far as having a net effect on the election.”

Dallas City Council members were incensed and refused to pay the county to hold this month’s runoff. At the time, Mayor Eric Johnson said voters should be outraged. “We’ll never know, I suspect, how many people literally did not get to vote in this election that wanted to,” said Johnson, who had endorsed Parish in the election. Through a spokesman, Johnson declined to comment about the lawsuit. The city attorney on Friday notified council that it had been filed.

Bazaldua, who didn’t return a message left Monday morning, didn’t go as far as the mayor at that May 12 council meeting. The District 7 incumbent was, however, critical of the elections department. “There’s a lot of things that need to get worked out and any type of obstacle or added hurdle that our voters have to go through in order to cast a vote is unacceptable,” Bazaldua said at the time.

As of 2019, voters in Dallas County can cast their ballot at any polling location in the county. This proved helpful on May 1, Bazaldua said, as he and campaign volunteers at closed polling locations in South Dallas were able to direct voters to go to other polling locations nearby. However, Bazaldua said then that it appeared some poll workers may not have gotten the memo that voters could go to any open polling location. “If I was not there, if people from my campaign weren’t there, voters were being told [by poll workers] they couldn’t vote,” he said. “That’s something that I think is problematic.”

Esmeralda Garcia, with the Dallas County Elections Department, said Monday that the department can’t comment specifically on pending litigation. Since 2019, however, she said poll workers have been trained to understand that voters can cast ballots at any Dallas County polling location, even on Election Day. The temporarily closed polling locations did not affect the results of the election, she said. (The county is also continuing to negotiate with the city over the bill for the May 1 election and June 5 runoff. “We basically have no concerns regarding payment,” Garcia said.)

In the days after the May 1 election, Parish said he was frustrated by what he described as a lack of response from the Dallas County Elections Department. It took days before the full extent of the problems on May 1 were known, and Parish said he was told by the elections department that if he wanted a recount, either he or one of the other candidates would have to pay the $15,000 bill to conduct it.

Garcia said that prior to Parish’s lawsuit, no candidate in the District 7 election filed for a recount with the elections department. It is correct that candidates who request a recount are expected to pay for it, although Garcia couldn’t immediately confirm the cost estimate.

Parish said he continues to have questions about what happened while polls were closed on Election Day. The lawsuit further contends that Dallas County “failed to count legal votes” and “counted additional illegal ballots,” although the petition is scarce on specifics to back up these points.

“I don’t know what I don’t know,” Parish said. “I don’t want to accuse anybody of anything nefarious, because it very well could have been just a comedy of errors.”

Parish also took pains to draw a distinction between his contesting the results of the May 1 election—in which no one disputes that polling locations were down for hours on Election Day—and the way that former President Donald Trump and his allies have challenged the results of last November’s presidential election, in which there was no evidence of fraud or irregularities.

He singled out what happened at the Park South YMCA. The polling location there, according to elections officials, was closed from 7 a.m. (when it was supposed to open) to as late as 10:45 a.m, when new voting machines were sent in to replace ones that weren’t working. Parish said many elderly Black voters cast their ballots at the Park South YMCA on Election Day.

“For them not to be able to vote is classic disenfranchisement, whether it was done accidentally or on purpose. Jim Crow 2.0,” he said.

Parish noted the low voter turnout, both in May and in this weekend’s runoff. There were about 3,700 ballots cast in District 7 for the May 1 election. In the runoff, about 2,800 people decided who will represent the more than 90,000 residents of District 7. He said that voter apathy in Dallas stems in part from a too-common belief that elections aren’t fair or representative. Each of the District 7 candidates worked too hard for the election results to be at all in doubt, he said.

“I think the reason for the apathy is shenanigans like this,” he said.

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