Q: A member of the community notified our school district of a rumor that one of the school board candidates, who filed an application for a place on the ballot, has a criminal background. Is our school district required to conduct background checks on every candidate or otherwise research every rumor to determine a candidate’s eligibility to be placed on the ballot?
A: No. A school district may administratively declare that a candidate is ineligible only when the record conclusively establishes the candidate’s ineligibility.
According to the Texas Election Code, an individual is ineligible to be a candidate, or elected or appointed to, a Texas school board if the individual has been convicted of a felony “from which the individual has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.” Tex. Elec. Code § 141.001. The Texas Education Code adds to the eligibility requirements by prohibiting an individual from serving on a school board if the individual has been convicted of a felony (regardless of whether there has been a pardon or expungement) or convicted of an offense under Texas Penal Code Section 43.01(b), regarding prostitution. Tex. Educ. Code § 11.066; Tex. Elec. Code § 145.003(f).
If, on the application, the candidate attested that he or she is eligible to run for a place on the school district’s ballot, the district is not required to investigate or otherwise conduct background checks on all board candidates, nor is a district required to research a rumor to determine the candidate’s eligibility. In re Jackson, 14 S.W.3d 843, 848-49 (Tex. App.—Waco 2000, orig. pet.) (holding that a state actor under § 145.003 has “no fact-finding authority;” instead, she may “administratively declare that a candidate is ineligible only when the record conclusively establishes the candidate’s ineligibility”). Only when the district is presented with credible documentation of a felony conviction should the candidate be declared ineligible and name omitted from the ballot. See Tex. Elec. Code § 145.003(g)-(h).
If a candidate is declared ineligible after the deadline for omitting an ineligible candidate’s name from the ballot, district action is governed by whether there is a runoff requirement. See Tex. Elec. Code § 145.005. In districts that elect their trustees by majority, the candidate’s name will remain on the ballot, and any votes cast for the candidate are counted in the regular manner. Id. at § 145.005(d) If the ineligible candidate received the vote that would entitle the candidate to a place on the runoff ballot. Id. That is, the votes for the ineligible candidate will be disregarded.
If there is no runoff requirement (i.e., election is by plurality), the ineligible candidate’s name will remain on the ballot, and any votes cast for that candidate must be counted in the regular manner. Tex. Elec. Code § 145.005(c). If the candidate receives the vote required to win the election, a vacancy results and is filled in the regular manner of filling vacancies for the school board member.
The Texas Association of School Boards has provided guidance regarding eligibility requirements for individuals running for election to a school board, which is available here. Please contact your local school attorney if you seek additional information or have specific questions regarding eligibility requirements for individuals seeking election to a school board.