Editorials

April 8, 2014

Lon Burnam suit shows faults in Texas Election Code

If electronic applications for mail-in ballots aren’t allowed, why not?

Judging from an initial court ruling on Friday, Fort Worth state Rep. Lon Burnam might be on a quixotic quest as he fights to reverse his loss in the March 4 Democratic primary.

That would not be a new role for Burnam. He’s spent more than 17 years in the House, most of them when the body was controlled by strong Republican majorities. It’s enough to say he’s been ignored before.

Still, just as he has done during some of his legislative battles, Burnam might accomplish something significant even if he doesn’t win.

His court battle shows that parts of the Texas Election Code must be brought into the electronic age.

Burnam’s windmill-tilting this time is an effort to disqualify just enough votes in his primary loss to Ramon Romero Jr. to erase the 111-vote margin in the District 90 race.

But courts will be very reluctant to throw out votes — and they should be.

State District Judge Robert McFarling of Denton, after hearing legal arguments in 48th District Court on Friday, declined to order release of mail-in ballot applications Burnam sought.

Burnam’s attorney, Art Brender, promised an appeal. One way or the other, the case should be resolved quickly. It’s not good to leave elections hanging in the balance.

At the core of the case is Burnam’s contention that Romero’s team canvassed District 90 neighborhoods looking for people who wanted to vote with mail-in ballots.

He says they filled out forms and asked voters to sign them on an electronic device such as an iPad. Burnam says such use of technology is not authorized in the Election Code.

If he is right, the question becomes “why not?”

It should be clear that technology can make the election process run smoother and in doing so might increase voter participation.

Just as clearly, technology without safeguards could aid vote fraud. The Election Code is very carefully worded in order to provide those safeguards.

Legislators should work on bringing more technological advantages to the Election Code when they convene next year.

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