If Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is going to mount his biggest crackdown yet on voter fraud, Tarrant County is a strange place for it.
But Texas’ most reliably red Republican urban county is now supposedly the focus of at least a preliminary vote-by-mail fraud investigation, and a former Democratic lawmaker said Thursday that it in part involves his 2014 defeat.
Former state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, sued to challenge his 110-vote loss to now-state Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. Burnam dropped the suit in June 2014 after courts refused to order county election officials to release vote-by-mail applications for review.
Burnam said he helped North Richland Hills political consultant Aaron Harris craft a complaint that brought investigators to Fort Worth this week. Harris has partnered with Dallas hotelier Monty Bennett to campaign against incumbent directors on the Fort Worth-based Tarrant Regional Water District board.
On Twitter, Gov. Greg Abbott called it the “largest voter fraud investigation in Texas history.” A spokesperson in Paxton’s office declined to confirm or deny any formal investigation.
Burnam said he and Harris have worked for more than a year on the complaint. He said he expects to be subpoenaed and has kept records from his 2014 lawsuit.
Burnam had represented central Fort Worth in the Legislature for 18 years until he was defeated by Romero, in part because a district boundary change favored Hispanic voters.
Burnam said he believes that any investigation will focus on vote-by-mail ballots in “inner-city, low-income” precincts.
He got involved, he said, because “I believe certain elections have been stolen over time,” listing the 2000 presidential election, his defeat and also the May city charter election, where the last precinct reporting sealed a 183-vote margin in favor of adding two City Council members.
Harris did not return messages.
An assistant county elections administrator, Stephen Vickers, responded early this week that county officials do not know the nature of Harris’ claims.
Romero, named House Democrats’ “Freshman of the Year,” has maintained that his campaign workers did nothing illegal. In court, a Tarrant County assistant district attorney argued to keep the vote-by-mail applications confidential.
Vote-by-mail abuse has been a topic for both Tarrant County Democrats and Republicans in close central-city elections. In 2010, Democratic justice of the peace candidate Charlotte Hogan-Price unsuccessfully challenged winner Lisa Woodard’s 136-vote runoff victory, saying dozens of early votes lacked proper signatures or postage.
Burnam said he wished the investigation weren’t close to the Nov. 8 election.
“I know it seems like another Republican-led assault on voting, but I didn’t have anything to do with timing,” he said.
He said he wants clean city elections in 2017.
Getting there might get messy.