A local appeals court will not require Tarrant County election officials to release all applications for mail-in ballots received for this year’s race for House District 90.
State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who has represented House District 90 for nearly two decades, asked to review the paperwork because he believed it would show illegalities in this race — and that he didn’t lose his re-election bid.
In March, Burnam lost by 111 votes to local businessman Ramon Romero Jr.
“This is the first step to the end of the line,” Romero said Monday. “Now I can tell people there won’t be a cloud over our victory party.
“I’ve been waiting for this to happen. This [lawsuit] is not what our voters deserve.”
Texas’ 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth issued a brief ruling late Monday saying Burnam’s appeal was denied.
Art Brender, one of Burnam’s attorneys, said he plans to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court within days.
“It’s ironic at a time when we’re having debates over whether you have to have a picture ID to vote in person at a poll, … you’ve got increasingly very shadowy procedures now being sanctioned by voting by mail,” said Brender, former chairman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “We’re going to keep fighting it.”
Less than three weeks after the election, Burnam sued to challenge the election loss, saying he believed that his opponent had run an “illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation.”
Burnam noted that nearly 1,000 of the 5,078 votes cast in this race were absentee mail-in ballots — which could have been a deciding factor in the race.
He has said he believes that iPads or other electronic tablets were used illegally to submit many vote-by-mail applications.
Political observers say the state’s Election Code only addresses electronic signatures at polling places, such as when voters cast a ballot during early voting or on election day. And they say the law hasn’t been updated to include the use of electronic devices, one way or the other, regarding mail-in ballot requests.
“I believe that these documents and other testimony will establish beyond question that the computerized-signature operation was illegal and that I won the election,” Burnam has said. “Part of my goal with this lawsuit is to root out these illegal operations before they become entrenched. Everyone, candidates and consultants, must play by the rules.
“Otherwise, they make a sham of the democratic process, and I cannot and will not accept that.”
Burnam has sent emails updating voters on the race and asking for help to pay court costs.
“My election contest litigation proceeds and I am almost there with raising enough funds to prosecute the case,” he said in a recent email. “My opponent has been assured his costs of hiring the best attorneys money can buy will be covered. I am relying on you.”
In an April 3 court hearing, state District Judge Robert McFarling of Denton turned down Burnam’s request that Tarrant election officials release all the applications that workers received for mail-in ballots in the race for District 90.
Ann Diamond of the Tarrant County district attorney’s office argued against releasing all the applications, saying they are not publicly available and 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.
“It’s Lon’s legal right to do this,” said Romero, owner of A-Fast Coping Tile and Stone. “It doesn’t matter whether he lost by 2,000 votes. He can contest the election.
“We won fair and square and the voters’ voices were heard,” he said. ““I hope he sees that not only the voters have spoken, but now the courts have spoken.”
Brender said he plans to now ask the state’s highest civil court to review the case.
“We’ll have to see if we can get this ruling turned around,” he said.