Mac Walker said he put his name on the ballot because he wants to improve Houston ISD and the way it is governed.
If elected to the board of trustees for the state’s largest school district, Walker might start his tenure by trying to improve the process by which HISD puts names on the ballot.
In the August application he submitted to HISD to be a candidate for the District VII trustee race, a copy of which is on the HISD website, Walker wrote that his full name is Lee Macerlaen Walker and he wanted to appear on the Nov. 2 ballot as “Mac Walker.”
Then, about a week ago, he said he started hearing from confused potential constituents who had received absentee ballots in the mail. Those ballots, Walker said, referred to him as “Lee Walker,” a mistake he and the Harris County Elections Office attribute to HISD.
“The inability of HISD to correctly transcribe three letters and own up to it is a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with HISD,” said Walker, a 51-year-old River Oaks resident who is a project of HISD schools. “It’s the reason I’m running. It’s the reason HISD needs to be changed.”
Walker is running against District VII incumbent Anne Sung and fellow challengers Dwight Jefferson and Bridget Wade for the right to represent a geographic area that includes Sinclair Elementary in the Timbergrove neighborhood. And his attempts to have the ballot mistake corrected before the Oct. 18 start of early voting have been unsuccessful.
Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said Saturday through a spokesperson she had consulted with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections, and decided to “move forward with the ballots as is to avoid derailing the entire November 2 election.”
Nearly 5,180 mail ballots that include the District VII trustee race had been sent to voters as of Monday, according to elections office spokesperson Nadia Hakim, who said changing a candidate name on a ballot is a several-step process that at this point would require more time and manpower than is available in order to start early voting as scheduled.
“Houston ISD acknowledged to our office that they made a mistake with respect to Mr. Walker’s information to go on the ballot, however, they informed our office of the mistake too late to make any changes to the ballot,” Hadim wrote in a Monday email. “Any changes made on or after the day that HISD informed our office of the mistake would risk the entire November 2021 election, which includes state constitutional amendments and over 35 local jurisdictions, for all of Harris County.”
The HISD press office released a statement Tuesday saying the district takes responsibility for the mistake and tried to remedy the error once it became aware of it on Oct. 4, contacting both Harris County and the Texas Secretary of State's Office, with the county ultimately deciding the error could not be corrected in time without jeopardizing the election as a whole.
In an Oct. 7 email to HISD superintendent Millard House II, which Walker provided to The Leader, he asked the district to explain the situation in a news release, on its social media channels and in email communications to District VII families and voters.
HISD said in its Tuesday statement that it would post an election notice - on the bulletin board it uses for board meetings, on its website and in mailed communications to voters - that indicates Walker's preferred name as well as the name that appears on the ballot.
"Corrective actions and systems in the Office of Board Services have been put into place to ensure that this does not happen again," HISD said.
Walker said he also asked for assistance from Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who represents Walker and oversees the elections office along with the three other county commissioners and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. A spokesperson for Cagle said Monday that the commissioner “assigned staff members to work with the elections administrator to try to mitigate the problem with the candidate’s name and that we have been assured by Ms. Longoria’s office that they will take steps to educate voters at the polling place, including potential signage.”
However, later Monday, Hakim said, “Per the Secretary of State, our office is unable to post notices at polling locations or on social media regarding particular candidates as this could be a form of electioneering or bias in favor of one candidate over another.”
In the event that a voter at the polling place is confused about whether “Lee Walker” on the ballot is the same candidate as “Mac Walker,” Hakim said poll workers “are not allowed to provide any commentary on a voter’s ballot or the choices therein.”
Regarding Walker’s request to inspect absentee ballots after they are submitted, to ensure votes for him are counted accurately, Hakim said no candidates can review ballots until 22 months have lapsed without a recount or a court order.
Any dispute about a voter’s intent on a ballot will be reviewed and determined by bipartisan election judges, Hakim said.
“I think it’s going to hurt my chances to win because the incumbent (Sung) won by 27 votes in 2016,” Walker said. “So if 27 people get confused … Literally, every vote counts.”
Walker said his campaign already has sent out “tens of thousands” of mailers that say “Mac” – the name he’s been called since birth, he said – along with more than 300 yard signs and 1,200 flyers. He said he is in the process of having new signage and campaign materials created that say “Lee ‘Mac’ Walker,” which he estimated could cost at least $10,000.
Walker said he realizes the snafu over his name, and subsequent publicity about it, could end up helping his name recognition leading up to the election.
“But I would rather not have that issue,” he said.