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Lon Burnam appeals election loss to Texas Supreme Court

Posted Friday, May. 16, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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State Rep. Lon Burnam is asking the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on his re-election bid, which he believes was scuttled by illegal mail-in ballots sent to the Tarrant County Elections Center.

The Fort Worth Democrat — who lost his bid to keep representing District 90 by 111 votes to businessman Ramon Romero Jr. — wants the court to let him review applications for the mail-in ballots because he believes they will show illegal activity.

He sued to challenge the results a few weeks after the election, questioning whether Romero ran an “illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation.”

Last month, state District Judge Robert McFarling of Denton turned down Burnam’s request for local election officials to release all the applications that workers received for mail-in ballots in the District 90 race.

This week, Texas’ 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth denied Burnam’s appeal of that ruling.

Now Burnam’s legal staff has filed an emergency petition with the state’s highest civil court.

“This is about a specific piece of information we are trying to get,” Burnam said. “I’m surprised we can’t get it. Normally, it would be open records. But if we need to go to the Supreme Court to get it, that’s where we will go.

“We have learned a whole lot,” he said. “We now believe there are a number of laws that have been broken. We are moving forward whether we get this information from the Supreme Court or not.”

Romero said he hopes the Texas Supreme Court chooses not to consider the case.

“It’s unfortunate we are going through this,” he said Friday. “I know this is his right, but it’s almost to a point now where I feel a little bit of … regret that this is going on.

“But I’m not going to let this slow down our efforts or stop all the little things that need to be done.”

Mail-in ballots

When he filed the appeal, Burnam — who has represented District 90 for nearly two decades — noted that nearly 1,000 of the 5,078 votes cast in the race were absentee mail-in ballots and that they could have been a deciding factor.

Court documents filed by attorney Art Brender, the former Tarrant County Democratic Party chairman who is on Burnam’s legal team, show that Burnam believes that iPads or other tablets were used illegally to submit many vote-by-mail applications.

Political observers say the state’s Election Code addresses only electronic signatures at polling places, such as when voters cast ballots during early voting or on election day. And they say the law hasn’t been updated to include the use of electronic devices for mail-in-ballot requests.

In an April 3 hearing, McFarling turned down Burnam’s request to have Tarrant County election officials release all applications for mail-in ballots.

Ann Diamond of the Tarrant County district attorney’s office argued against releasing all the applications, saying that they are not publicly available and that they include private information.

Brender maintained in court that the records are public information and that his review of records at the time showed that at least three people may have voted twice — once in early voting and once on election day.

Brender appealed McFarling’s ruling, but the 2nd Court of Appeals issued a brief ruling late Monday denying the appeal.

Work continues

Officials at the Texas Supreme Court acknowledge that they received Burnam’s filing but did not indicate how long it might take to decide whether to hear the case.

“I thought it would all be done at this point,” Burnam said. “But we will see it through.”

As they wait for a ruling, Brender said investigative work on the case continues.

Romero, meanwhile, continues preparing to take office as the new representative for District 90 in January, when the Legislature reconvenes.

“I can’t let the sour grapes that’s going on stop what we are doing,” he said. “We are looking forward to people feeling really good about District 90.”

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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