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Peaceful Transfer of Power, Texas Style (Bring an Axe)

The 2020 elections were or still are on everyone’s mind. Trying to fill airtime, there has been speculation of how the Federal Government peacefully transfers its power from one administration to another. But how does Texas do it? After all, Texans never let an opportunity pass without reminding anyone that we were once a sovereign nation. While there are procedures in place now, that I will discuss, apparently not every transfer of power on the Governor level was peaceful.

As recalled in an article in The Atlantic by Barbara McQuade of Michigan Law School:

In 1874, a Texas governor locked himself in the basement of the state capitol building after losing his reelection bid. The saga began when Republican Governor Edmund J. Davis lost the 1873 election by a resounding 2-to-1 ratio to his Democratic challenger, Richard Coke, and claimed that the election had been tainted with fraud and intimidation. A court case made its way to the state’s Supreme Court. All three justices, each of whom had been appointed by the incumbent Davis, ruled that the election was unconstitutional and invalid. Democrats called upon the public to disregard the court’s decision and proceeded with plans for Coke’s inauguration. On January 15, 1874, Coke arrived at the state capitol with a sheriff’s posse and was sworn into office while Davis barricaded himself downstairs with state troopers. The next day, Davis requested federal troops from President Ulysses S. Grant. Grant refused, and Davis finally stepped down three days later.

Davis left the capital in January 1874, locking the door to the governor’s office and taking the key, forcing Coke’s supporters to break in with an axe. That was the last Republican governor in Texas until Bill Clements was elected in 1979, some 104 years later. Any of this sound familiar?

In our more civilized times, Texas regulates how power is transferred through the Texas Election Code. After election day, the next step is to canvass the vote. While in the 1500s canvas literally meant tossing an animal or person around in a canvas sheet as punishment, in Texas it means the act from which the official result of election is determined. This generally happens at the earliest of when the ballot board has verified and counted all provisional ballots and count all timely received ballots that are received after election day, this year November 6th. There are several dates when all this can happen; the day after election day for postmarked mailed ballots if mailed in the U.S., 6 days later for mail ballots mailed outside of the US; 13 days later for the ballot board to qualify and count provisional ballots. Therefore, the last day to canvas is November 17, 2020. The actual canvass meeting can happen with only 2 officers of the governmental body which constitutes a quorum (Texas Election Code 67.004(a)). They approve the tabulation, and it is entered into the local election register.

After the canvass meeting, a Certificate of Election is issued to the newly elected officers. The officers must make a Statement of the Officer swearing basically to no bribery. After the Statement, then the Oath of Office may be administered by a notary public, city secretary, a mayor in a Type A general law city, a judge or retired judge, clerk of a court of record, justice of the peace, clerk of a j.p. court or a legislator.

After taking oath you may assume your office and hopefully your predecessor has left you a key. Nice and tidy, unless it’s not.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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