The early voting period for the Republican and Democratic runoff elections concluded Friday with a disappointingly low turnout across Ellis County.
Of the 105,515 registered voters in the county, only 5.87 percent (6,194) cast a ballot ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.
Roughly five percent of those ballots (5,256) were cast in the Republican primary runoff, while fewer than one percent voted in the Democratic races.
The runoff was needed for several Ellis County, state and federal party nominations after candidates in their respective races failed to receive more than 50 percent of votes during the primary election held earlier this year. The winner of the runoff election will represent his or her party in the November general election.
One of the more highly-contested and discussed races is between current Ellis County Judge Carol Bush and challenger, Todd Little for the Republican nomination.
Bush received 6,600 votes (42.88%) in the Republican primary election, while Little, a former Red Oak mayor, received 4,951 votes (32.17%) to edge Rodney Ramsey 3,839 votes (24.94%).
Just before the runoff elections began, Little stood outside of the historic front doors of the Ellis County Courthouse and made several promises to voters.
Little vowed to return a $70,000 raise awarded to Bush in 2016 by a salary grievance committee comprised of citizens in the grand jury pool. He also promised to open the front doors of the Ellis County Courthouse to citizens and push the start time of the Ellis County Commissioners back to allow for more citizens to attend.
"In the interest of restoring trust to the citizens and to the commissioners, I am announcing that on day one of being elected county judge, I will give back every single dollar of Carol Bush's $70,000 raise," said Little to about 40 people outside of the courthouse May 10.
As previously reported by the Daily Light, Bush received the raise after a nine-person salary grievance committed voted unanimously in favor of the agreed upon amount. Members of the committee, which spent about 18 minutes in open deliberation Sept. 9, 2016, stated the salary was too low based on the demands of the job and wanted to ensure the county could attract qualified talent to the position after Bush leaves office.
Because of the unanimous vote, the raise went directly into the budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year and did not require approval by the Ellis County Commissioners Court. The Texas Local Government Code does not outline an avenue for an appeal of a raise awarded unanimously by a grievance committee.
According to the Texas Association of Counties Handbook, Chapter 152 of the Local Government Code, Texas “creates a salary grievance process for elected county and precinct officials to challenge their salaries, expenses, and allowances as set out in the proposed budget. […] An elected county or precinct officer who disagrees with the salary or personal expenses provided in the proposed budget may request a hearing before the salary grievance committee before the budget’s final approval.”
At the time of the grievance hearing, Bush referenced the $151,889 salary of the Ellis County Court at Law judges, $144,200 salary of the Ellis County and District Attorney and $144,200 salary for the Ellis County District judges. She also noted the wages ranging from approximately $95,000 to $190,000 for neighboring city managers, police and fire chiefs and finance directors during her presentation.
Her salary was budgeted for $94,835 before the committee awarded the raise.
In an email correspondence with the Daily Light last week, Bush stated, "I won’t speculate as to what motivated my opponent to suddenly change his position [on the salary]. For questions concerning my salary, please visit my website at judgecarolbush.com and read 'Setting the Record Straight.'"
Bush also noted the decision to return the Commissioners Court to evening meetings or to open the courthouse doors cannot be made solely by the county judge. All sessions are live-streamed and recorded online, and the front doors were locked after a recommendation by law enforcement officials.
"Historically, public attendance is very low. In the year prior to changing the evening meeting time, not a single member of the public showed up to speak at the evening meetings," Bush added. "Consequently, the Commissioners Court determined that it was an expensive and unwise waste of resources and voted to conduct all meetings during business hours when personnel, and those with whom we do business, were readily available."
The winner between Bush and Little will face Democratic candidate JR Phillips (3,552 votes) in November.
The race for the judge's place in the 378th Judicial District Court of Ellis County resulted in neither of the four Republican candidates — William Wallace, Shani Flemins, Stacy Auvenshine or Ed Jendrzey — reaching the 50-percent plateau. However, it is Wallace (5,734 votes, 41.51 percent) and Flemins (3,144 votes, 22.76 percent) who will head into the May 22 runoff.
There was no Democratic opponent in the race for the seat.
In the race for the Republican nomination for county clerk, Krystal Valez (6,101, 44.24%) and Jessica Irwin (5,091, 36.92%) face in the runoff after defeating Denise DeLara (2,599, 18.85%)
The winner of the runoff faces Vicki Alcala Spaniel in November. Spaniel received 3,634 votes.
Republicans Chris Macon (1,357, 35.36) and Randy Owen (1,207, 31.45%) are the only other two who will square off in the runoff. The two defeated Joyce Lindauer (682, 17.77%), Cynthia Billingsley (352, 9.17%) and Tommy Aguilar (240, 6.25%) in March.
The winner faces Monica Mosley Spencer, who received 798 votes, in the November regular election.
All polling locations are open 7 a.m. — 7 p.m on Election Day, Tuesday, May 22.
MAY 22 ELECTION DAY LOCATIONS
Precinct - Location
101, 102 - The Lighthouse Coffee Bar (Mtg Room) 1404 N. 9th Street Midlothian, TX 76065
103, 105 - Midlothian Conference Center 1 Community Circle Dr., Midlothian, TX 76065
104 - Mountain Peak Community Church 751 W FM 875 Midlothian, TX 76065
106, 111 - Sardis United Methodist Church 640 Sardis Rd Midlothian, TX 76065
107, 109 - Grace Church Of Ovilla 519 Westmoreland Rd Ovilla, TX 75154
108 - Walnut Grove Middle School 990 N Walnut Grove Rd Midlothian, Ix 76065
110 - Harvest Of Praise Ministry 2603 S Hampton Rd Glenn Heights, Ix 75154
112 - Bible Baptist Church 14oo FM 1446 Waxahachie, TX75167
113, 1,I5 - Rivers Of Life Pentecostal Church 1403 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd Waxahachie, TX 75165
1 14 - Waxahachie Parks And Recreation Building 401 S. Elm Street Waxahachie, TX 751 65
1 16, 118 - Farley Street Baptist Church 1116 Brown Street Waxahachie, TX 75165
1 17 - First United Methodist -Wax 505 W Marvin Ave Waxahachie, TX 751 65
119, 133, 134 - Southlake Baptist Church 2378 S Hw 77 Waxahachie, TX 75165
120, 121, 122 - Faith Assembly Of God Church 1810 W Baldridge Street Ennis, TX 751 1 9
123 - New Founders Missionary Baptist 1903 Lafayette Street Ennis, TX 75119
124, 126,127 - San Jacinto Auditorium 501 N Gaines St Ennis, TX 75119
125, 128,129, 136 - Ellis County Sub-Courthouse 207 S Sonoma Trail Ennis, TX 751 19
130 - Milford Community Center 109 S Main Street Milford, TX 76670
131, 132 - Central Baptist Church 1 13 S Ward Street Italy, TX 76651
135 - First Baptist Church-Maypearl 5744ft'1166 Maypearl, TX 76064
137 - Bristol United Methodist Church 104 Church Street Bristol, TX 75119
138,142 - Palmer ISD Admin Building 303 Bulldog Way Palmer, TX 75152
139, 141 - Park Meadows Baptist Church 3350 N Hwy 77 Waxahachie, TX 75165
140 - The Avenue Baptist Church 1761 N Hwy 77 Waxahachie, TX 75165
143, 146 - Lifepoint Community Church 201 Louise Ritter Rd Red Oak, TX 75154
144,145 - Red Oak Municipal Center 2oo Lakeview Pkwy Red Oak, TX 75154
147 - Lone Star Cowboy Church 1011 E Ovilla Rd Red Oak, TX 75154
148, 149 - Ferris Public Library 301 E Loth Street Ferris, TX 75125
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith