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Ten precincts could decide Denton mayoral runoff on Dec. 8
  • Updated

The runoff for Denton mayor could come down to the 10 precincts in which incumbents Keely Briggs and Gerard Hudspeth were the most competitive on Election Day.

“It’s a compliment for both of us,” Hudspeth said of progressing to the runoff. “Being born and raised here, I have just a slight edge in the ability to get things done and a slight edge in more diverse appeal and experience.”

A litigation consultant, Hudspeth is in his second term as a Denton City Council member representing District 1.

Briggs, the District 2 council member in her third term and a community volunteer, led the race, carrying 33 of 43 precincts in unofficial returns.

“We’re just going to keep going,” Briggs said. “I want to thank Gerard for running. We had a good campaign. We both did really great. We did all that work, and now we begin again. We’re going to do all we can to get back out to the polls to vote.”

The mayoral runoff is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 8.

Half of Hudspeth’s precinct wins are generally in west Denton, with the others in southeastern Denton. But in one of those — Precinct 1018 — he was separated from Briggs by 193 votes in unofficial returns. And the margins in other precincts were smaller — 1013 (35), 1019 (31), 1039 (six), 1046 (20), 4010 (70) and 4040 (67).

Hudspeth said that, indeed, turnout is critical in a runoff.

“Ultimately, what it’s going to come down to is we’re going to get rid of the national voters and get back to a local election,” he said.

On Tuesday, Briggs received 48.5% of the vote, or 24,815 ballots. Hudspeth received 41.6% (21,310). Michael Mitchell, a delivery driver, received 9.7% (5,004) of the vote.

The runoff candidates have been campaigning since about February, making it a long election season after Denton City Council members moved municipal elections from May to November because of the pandemic.

“I think we announced in January and had our kickoff party in February,” Hudspeth said. “It’s an honor to have the support of that many people and to have my mom and dad there to support me. I appreciate all of the support and volunteers.”

Briggs said she also began her campaign in January.

“It’s been long, but it’s been fun,” she said. “I know the precincts I won were close. But I work for everyone, and that’s why I chose not to be endorsed by anyone. I’m glad to see that translated into the vote.”

Chris Watts will remain mayor until that race is decided. He was set to leave the council Tuesday if a new mayor had been elected.

Hudspeth, who serves as mayor pro tem, said he will leave his council seat on Nov. 17, when Birdia Johnson is sworn into office in District 1 following her win over George Ferrie Jr.

With Hudspeth leaving the council, members must elect a new mayor pro tem, city spokesperson Ryan Adams said.

“Our charter does require the council to select a mayor pro tem after the annual election but gives the council some discretion on the timing, stating that it shall do so ‘as soon as possible.’ The exact date of that action is not clear at this point,” he said.

The runoff between first-term incumbent Paul Meltzer and pastor Jim Mann for at-large Place 6 could be decided in eight precincts, where the margins ranged anywhere from two votes to 100 votes.

In unofficial results, Meltzer received 44.8% (21,409) of the vote. Mann received 42.1% (20,108) — a 1,301-vote difference. Liam York, a student, had a say in sending the race to a runoff, taking 6.1% (6,179) of the vote.

“If those votes weren’t there, it wouldn’t be a runoff,” Meltzer said of the third candidate in the race. “I think that’s also the case with Mitchell in the mayoral race.”

Mann offered a different yet lighthearted take on the runoff.

“I gave it everything I had,” he said. “We’re ready to hit the trail again. But I think Paul said it best last night: This is 2020. This is what it is. It’s a crazy year, and I’m looking forward to 2021.”

As for an extended campaign, Meltzer said it was an abbreviated season for him because of the pandemic.

“It was quite a while before I thought it was appropriate to start campaigning,” he said. “The kinds of things I have done in the past I didn’t feel appropriate to do during COVID, like block-walking. It didn’t strike me as the right thing to do.”

The smallest margins among the eight most competitive precincts in the Place 6 race are in 1009 (73), 1015 (39), 1019 (30), 1046 (38), 4015 (36) and 4041 (27). Precinct 1009 is in the North Bonnie Brae Street area; 1015 is south of Interstate 35E between Londonderry Lane and Abbotts Lane; 1019 is west of Corinth near Teasley Lane; 1046 is also west of Corinth roughly between Hickory Creek Road and Teasley Lane; 4015 is south of I-35E and Londonderry and east of Fort Worth Drive; and 4041 is between I-35E and Edwards Road.

Mann’s precinct wins are scattered in areas outside central Denton. For Meltzer, his wins are generally in central Denton and two precincts in southeastern Denton.

And in District 2’s five-candidate field, Connie Baker and Ronnie Anderson were 56 votes apart in unofficial returns, with Baker receiving 28.6% (3,417) of the vote. Anderson received 28.1% (3,361).

That district includes 14 precincts. Of those, many were separated by a few votes, including 1008 (seven), 1010 (54), 1012 (four), 1013 (47) and 4040 (13).

“Getting the people out to vote is the key,” Baker said. “I think it’s going to work out. You just do what you can.”

Baker took four precincts in northwest Denton, and Anderson won precincts in north and northeast Denton and west Denton.

Anderson could not be reached for comment.

Polling locations for the Dec. 8 election will be set after votes have been canvassed on Nov. 17.

Local professors talk Biden lead, Trump legal challenges in 2020 election
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Democrats could see Joe Biden win the presidency — but they would inherit a divided government if they lose their edge in Congress’ lower chamber and lose the Senate, a local professor said Wednesday afternoon.

The Associated Press reported Biden had 264 electoral votes of the 270 needed to win the presidency by Wednesday evening, but results may take a few more days as Pennsylvania still needs to count hundreds of thousands of votes. Elections officials in Nevada said more results will be released Thursday morning.

Parker Hevron, a political science professor at Texas Woman’s University, said Biden could win the presidency with the votes that have yet to be counted.

Parker Hevron

“Georgia does look kind of like a toss-up,” Hevron said Wednesday afternoon. “But if Georgia doesn’t go for Biden … then the combination of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada would put Biden over the top. Pennsylvania, where Biden is trailing in, has many mail-in ballots, which should be enough to push him over the top and maybe even larger than a 1% lead.”

Hevron said losses for Democrats in the Senate and a shrinking majority in the House of Representatives would bring forth a period of divided government in the United States through the 2022 midterm election.

Kimi King, a political science professor at the University of North Texas, said Americans should look at the 2020 general election as an election week rather than a single day as votes continue to come in.

Kimi King

“I think the election went more smoothly than perhaps people anticipated,” King said. “By the end of the day, it’s going to depend as these votes roll out. There’s still significant portions [that need to be counted], especially urban areas. And when you say urban, you need to think Democrat and rural Republican. I think the Biden campaign will see good news, [but] the Democrats didn’t necessarily perform as well as they thought they would.”

Sherri Greenberg, a former Texas state representative and current professor at the University of Texas, said she anticipated the election would come down to the battleground states and be a very close race overall. Greenberg also thought the mail-in votes would be significant when they were counted, which saw Biden’s lead in Wisconsin and Michigan swell in his favor on Wednesday morning.

Sherri Greenberg

“I think we will see conclusive results on Friday,” Greenberg said. “We also have to see how it goes as far as legal challenges.”

Jeremi Suri, a professor in UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, specializes as a historian when it comes to the United States presidency. He had two sets of reactions to how the election was unfolding: one as a scholar and the other as a professor.

Jeremi Suri

“As a scholar, I think Trump’s comments were unprecedented,” Suri said. “No other president has ever advocated not counting legal votes of citizens. He attacked the basis of democracy, the basis of integrity and rule of law. This is an affront to democracy; I’ve written and studied about presidents and I’ve never heard anything like that.”

As a professor, Suri expressed his worries about how the president’s actions may impact his students. He said Trump’s words are not those of a role model and help undo what he and his colleagues are teaching their students.

Although the Trump administration is putting forth legal challenges in the race, King said for him to call this election a fraud wouldn’t play well. She said she doesn’t see Republicans closing ranks behind Trump like they did for George W. Bush in 2000.

“For starters, you have a number of states that are in play, and you have a lot of [state] elections where [results were] what everybody thought they were going to [be],” King said. “If you look at all of that, it’s not clear if anything really changes. So if Trump comes in and says the election was rigged, that it was stolen, then you have a lot of potential races that could be called into question. People won’t buy that.”

Election Day postmortem: Three takeaways on how things went in Denton County Tuesday
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Election Day always comes with its share of revelations, but some things aren’t apparent until days or weeks after.

On Wednesday, Denton County residents didn’t have all the answers yet. It could be days or weeks until official results are tallied by the Denton County Elections Administration — which can be said of every election year.

Despite that, some of the dust had already begun to settle by Wednesday afternoon.

Steady, but not busy

More than 68% of registered voters exercised their right at the polls before in-person Election Day voting kicked off Tuesday — a higher turnout rate for early voting than in the entirety of the 2016 election cycle.

All those early ballots, in part enabled by an extended early voting window, freed up polling places Tuesday.

The long lines typical of Election Day didn’t materialize in Denton County this week the way they did in past elections.

“I didn’t hear reports of lines anywhere,” Frank Phillips, head of the county elections administration, said Wednesday.

Beyond that, he didn’t hear reports of any major voting issues in the county.

“I thought it was steady, but certainly not what I would call busy for a presidential [election],” he said.

There are still votes left to count

Phillips said there were roughly 14 regular ballots left to be counted by Wednesday afternoon.

He said it was still possible that more mail-in ballots could come in throughout the day. Those would be counted if they were postmarked by the mail-in deadline.

Additionally, he said there are up to 411 overseas ballots that could be counted through Monday.

He said local post office workers had been diligent in making sure all mail-in ballots made their way to the elections administration office. He said workers came by several times on Election Day alone to drop off more ballots.

He said elections workers still have to sort through the provisional ballots that were cast. We won’t know until they pick through those how many are valid and will go toward the official election results.

Sheriff’s race more interesting than it looked

Incumbent Sheriff Tracee Murphree took home the overwhelming majority of the 295,873 votes cast in the race.

He had 94.34% of the vote, according to unofficial results available Wednesday. That’s not surprising considering his was the only name actually listed on the ballot.

His opponent, Freyja Odinsdottir, managed to get more that 16,000 votes as a write-in candidate.

That wouldn’t be significant under more normal circumstances, but it is a large number for any write-in candidate.

Phillips said the elections administration doesn’t actively track the number of write-in votes candidates have gotten over the years, but Odinsdottir’s tally was impressive.

“I’ve never seen that many write-ins,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “That was very high.”

Armintor may have made history with reelection vote tally

Deb Armintor may have made history Tuesday when she received 27,587 votes in her reelection bid against Rick Baria for at-large Place 5 on the Denton City Council.

“It would take a lot of research to determine that, but I would not be at all surprised since this election was held in November instead of May when it would have normally been held,” Denton County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips said.

Council members this year moved the election from May to November because of the pandemic. Historically, turnout is higher during presidential elections, officials have said.

A review of Denton municipal election results from 1996 to 2020 shows that no candidate has come close to Armintor’s total on Election Day. In 1996, Denton’s population was about 78,000. Today, it’s more than 141,000.

“I don’t know the answer for sure, but when I think about this year’s unprecedented numbers, and when you consider how much the population of Denton has grown, how historically low turnout for local elections typically are … it seems highly likely that I have received more votes any City Council candidate in the history of Denton,” Armintor said. “As a grassroots activist candidate who has always been the underdog … that is overwhelming and humbling beyond words. Democracy is a powerful thing. It was the people of Denton — the people I serve.”

A University of North Texas professor, Armintor received 55.9% of the vote. Baria, a land planner, received 44% of the vote (21,730). The combined 49,317 votes are the second-most cast in any of the city races. The first is for mayor, with 51,129.

“Some people voted in [the Place 5] race and didn’t vote in others,” Baria said on Wednesday. “I think I ran a clean race. A lot of people came to her defense.”

Baria was referring to the smear campaign that included postcards and signs that called Armintor “dangerous,” listed her cellphone number, used photos edited to put her face behind bars and used her Facebook photos to mock her without disclosing who or what organization paid for the materials — a violation of Chapter 259 of the Texas Election Code.

“Some people think I had something to do with that, but I didn’t do it,” Baria said. “I don’t have the money to do it. I don’t have any animosity toward her. I never did. I try to treat people well.”

Of the 43 precincts across the city, Armintor won 29 of them. She and Birdia Johnson, who was elected to District 1, are scheduled to be sworn in Nov. 17. It will be Armintor’s second term and Johnson’s first one.