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Texplainer: What Happens When a Nominee Quits Before an Election?

To remove their names from the primary ballot, candidates must file a request at least 63 days in advance of the election. But if a party's nominee withdraws ahead of the general election, the party probably can't replace the candidate.

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Hey, Texplainer: What happens when candidates decide they don't want to run for office after they've already been nominated?

On April 25, Martha Dominguez decided she no longer wanted to run for the Democratic nomination for the District 1 seat on the State Board of Education. Dominguez hardly campaigned, claiming no contributions or expenses in her final campaign expense report. 

She had already filed paperwork to be on the ballot for the May 29 primary, along with fellow candidates Andres Muro and Sergio Mora. In late April, Dominguez filled out form AW3-16 — called a certificate of withdrawal — had it notarized and sent it to the secretary of state's office. 

Despite her attempt to withdraw, Dominguez is her party's nominee for the SBOE seat — in a district where Democrats are favored to win. 

How did that happen? According to the secretary of state’s office, Dominguez made two mistakes when she tried to withdraw. She missed the deadline to strike her name from the ballot, and she sent the paperwork to the incorrect office.

According to the Texas Election Code, primary candidates have until 63 days before the primary election to apply to have their name withdrawn (this year it was March 12), and they must withdraw with “the authority with whom the withdrawing candidate's application for a place on the ballot is required to be filed.” In this case, that was the Texas Democratic Party, not the secretary of state's office. 

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said that because Dominguez did neither of those things, her withdrawal was invalid and she stayed on the ballot as a legitimate candidate.

Had she successfully withdrawn from the primary, her name would not have been on the ballot, and one of the two other Democrats would have won the nomination.

Dominguez said Friday that her attempted withdrawal was based on “personal issues” that are now resolved, and that she fully intends to run against Republican Carlos Charlie Garza in November.

“The Texas voters have elected me, and I intend to win,” she said.

Had she decided not to stay on after being nominated for the general election, it’s unlikely that another Democrat could have taken her place.

According to the Texas Election Code, a political party may replace its candidate after a withdrawal if that candidate falls “critically ill” and would not be able to execute his or her duties if elected, if no other party has a nominee for the position that is being contested, or if the candidate withdraws because he or she was elected or appointed to another office.

Because Dominguez is neither sick nor seeking another office, and because Garza is the Republican nominee, the Texas Democratic Party would not be able to nominate a replacement for her if she quit.

The Democrats were actually on the other side of this issue in 2006, when former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay dropped his re-election bid in Texas’ Congressional District 22. DeLay won the primary but withdrew less than a month later, after he was indicted on charges involving alleged campaign finance violations. In an attempt to get around the replacement law, the Texas Republican Party attempted to have DeLay declared an ineligible candidate. State law allows candidates who are ineligible, but are elected anyway, to be replaced by their party.

However, the Democratic Party successfully sued to keep both DeLay’s eligibility and withdrawal intact, a decision that was upheld by the 5th U.S. District Court of Appeals.

As a result, no Republican candidate appeared on the ballot for that election. The Republicans organized a write-in campaign for Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, who lost to Democrat Nick Lampson.

Despite the confusing path to her nomination, Dominguez has the full support of the Texas Democratic Party, said Rebecca Acuña, a spokeswoman for the party. Both Acuña and Dominguez said the party did not advise Dominguez that if she dropped out there could be no replacement candidate.

Still, if Dominguez changes her mind again, she has until Aug. 24 to take her name off once and for all.

The Bottom Line: Candidates in primaries can withdraw their names from the ballot but must do so at least 63 days in advance of the election date and with the proper office. If a party’s nominee withdraws from the general election — excepting a handful of very specific circumstances — the party is not able to replace him or her on the ballot.

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