Burnam suit puts election in legal limbo

03/25/2014 5:14 PM

03/25/2014 5:15 PM

The rule of thumb for believing allegations in a just-filed lawsuit is pretty simple: Don’t.

But when the person who filed the suit has represented his neighbors in the Texas Legislature for more than 17 years, and when the suit’s goal is to reverse the outcome of what has been presumed to be a legitimate local election, its claims deserve prompt and studious attention.

State Rep. Lon Burnam filed such a suit Monday against businessman Ramon Romero Jr., the man who bested him by 111 votes in the March 4 Democratic primary for Fort Worth’s District 90 House seat.

Given what’s at stake — Burnam asks a district court to declare him the winner rather than Romero or to order a new election — the suit should receive expedited treatment from the court and everyone involved.

No one gains from holding the election outcome in legal limbo.

Burnam says in the suit, filed by attorneys Randal Buck Wood of Austin and Art Brender of Fort Worth, that he has “information and belief” that canvassers working on behalf of Romero improperly submitted applications for more than 180 vote-by-mail ballots.

The canvassers asked potential voters to fill out a vote-by-mail application on an iPad and sign it electronically, the suit says, adding, “These signatures would be downloaded as a printed application and sent to the election officials so that a ballot could be mailed to the voter.”

Burnam’s core claim is that Texas election law makes no provision for using electronic devices in that way. He submitted as evidence emails to his office from the Texas secretary of state’s office saying any such technology “must be proven to work within the legal procedures set forth in the Election Code, and approved by the Legislature.”

To date, no such approval has been issued, the email says.

Allegations are not proof — hence the caution about believing the initial claims in a lawsuit. Romero deserves every opportunity for formal response.

Tarrant County elections officials, the people charged with registering and assisting voters, should present their views to the court.

But all of this should happen as quickly as possible out of respect for voters and the election process.

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