Texas and federal officials resolved a last-minute squabble yesterday that briefly cast doubt on the timing of a special election today in Texas' 1st Congressional District, but not before Democrats accused the Justice Department of last-minute "meddling" to dampen voter turnout.
The doubt arose Thursday when William Bradford Reynolds, assistant attorney general for civil rights, wrote Gov. Mark White (D) threatening unspecified legal action because Texas had not sought clearance from the department for the date of the election, an action Reynolds maintained is required by the Voting Rights Act.
White, who said such notification is not required, nonetheless agreed yesterday to submit to the review, and the election will be held on schedule today.
The snafu over the notification rule, designed to ensure that the timing of an election does not have a discriminatory effect, produced news stories in Texas yesterday about the confusion and prompted state Democratic Chairman Robert Slagle to denounce Reynolds' letter as "a political ploy to hold down voter participation."
The special election in the rural northeastern part of the state is being watched by Democrats and Republicans alike as a barometer of realignment in the conservative, solidly Democratic South.
A Republican has not represented the district in more than a century, but the leading candidate in the eight-man field is Republican Edd Hargett, a farmer, engineer and former football star at Texas A&M.
Hargett, the lone Republican in the race, said through a spokesman yesterday that the Democrats' allegation of a political ploy was "absolutely crazy. We're looking for as big a turnout as we can get."
While Hargett is expected to lead the pack, the suspense is whether he will get the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff in 30 days against the top Democratic finisher.
The state and national Democratic Party, which have stayed on the sidelines so far because of the large number of Democrats in the race, are poised to throw heavy resources into the district in the event of a runoff.
The 1st District vacancy was created this spring when the Democratic incumbent, Sam B. Hall Jr., was appointed to a federal judgeship.