Politics & Government

May 30, 2014

Texas Supreme Court won’t hear Lon Burnam election lawsuit

The Fort Worth Democrat said he will weigh his options in the wake of this ruling.

The state’s highest civil court will not weigh in on the lawsuit state Rep. Lon Burnam filed challenging his election loss.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the request filed by Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who lost his bid to keep representing District 90 by 111 votes to local businessman Ramon Romero Jr.

Burnam has said he believes the election was scuttled by illegal mail-in ballots sent to the Tarrant County Elections Center. He asked the court to let him review the applications for those ballots because he thinks they will show illegal activity.

“Elections should be transparent in order for Democracy to work,” Burnam said in a written statement Friday. “It is disappointing that the court’s ruling deprives the public access to information about questionable election practices that many in the community have brought forward.

“This information was previously an open record under the Texas Election Code immediately after an election,” he said. “We will weigh our options in light of the court ruling.”

Romero said he was pleased by the court’s decision.

“We are thrilled to say the least,” he said. “This has been going on for over three months. The highest court in the (state) agreed with us that this has no merit.”

Romero has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. A hearing on that has been scheduled for June 16.

Just weeks after the March 4 primary, Burnam sued to challenge the election results, questioning whether Romero ran an “illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation.”

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 Fort Worth attorney Art Brender, the former Tarrant County Democratic Party chairman who is on Burnam’s legal team, show that Burnam believes that iPads and 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.

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.

He appealed that to Texas’ 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, which chose not to hear the case. Now the Texas Supreme Court has done the same.

Brender maintains that the records are public information and has said his review of some records show violations including that at least three people may have voted twice — once in early voting and once on election day.

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.

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