This ought to be interesting.
State Rep. Lon Burnam filed a lawsuit Monday challenging his 111-vote re-election loss earlier this month.
Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said the goal of the lawsuit is to review data from the Texas House District 90 election “to determine if there were hundreds of illegally cast ballots.”
“I believe I have no choice after receiving multiple reports of an illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation run to benefit my opponent,” Burnam said in a statement. “This operation appears to have clearly violated state law.”
Local businessman Ramon Romero Jr. won the race for this House seat, besting Burnam — dean of the Tarrant County delegation — earlier this month, local election records show.
In a lawsuit styled Lon Burnam v. Ramon Romero, 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.
On Election Night, the race for this seat was close, sometimes only separated by a handful of votes. When the final count was released, Romero pulled ahead by 111 votes to claim victory.
“I have received reports from voters in the district who say they were approached at their door by campaign workers of unclear affiliation who asked them to fill out a vote-by-mail application on an electronic tablet device such as an iPad,” Burnam said in his statement.
“Texas law clearly does not allow the practice of filling out vote-by-mail ballot applications electronically, which the Texas Secretary of State’s has confirmed. Other questionable practices about this operation aside, this renders the entire operation illegal.”
6. The Contestee (Romero) canvassed neighborhoods seeking persons to apply to vote by mail. His representatives used an iPad with an application on it that that was an application for a ballot by mail. The canvassers would simply ask the voter to sign the iPad. 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. Such assistance provided to a voter requires the signature of the assistant on the application for ballot by mail. Texas Election Code, S 84.003.
7. On information and belief there are in excess of 180 such applications obtained in this manner. This exceeds the margin of votes between Contestant and Contestee.
CAUSE OF ACTION
8. Obtaining ballots by using this device invalidates the votes. The only time that the code allows electronic signatures is at the polling place. See Section 63.002′ Electronic devices used in the voting process must be approved by the Secretary of State, which in this case, has not been done. The Secretary of State says that the only authority for using electronic signatures is code Section 63.002 which limits such signatures to use at the polling place. There is no other authority for using electronic signatures in an uncontrolled environment as was done here. See the attached communication from the Secretary of. State on this issue which is attached hereto as Exhibit ” A” and incorporated by reference herein in this petition.
The attached email correspondence is pretty clear. On the one hand, if Burnam is correct in his interpretation, which basically comes down to claiming that an iPad is not a “telephonic facsimile machine” and that an electronic signature is not acceptable in this scenario, then depending on how many votes really were affected it could swing the race. On the other hand, if this is the way Texas law currently is then it ought to be updated. There may be a good policy rationale for not allowing handheld devices to handle these applications, but I can’t see it off the top of my head. Barring the revelation of any such rationale, I’d support changing the law to allow what Romero’s team did – honestly, it strikes me as a good way to increase turnout. But if this is how the law is, then however sensible this use of technology may have been it would not be legal. Burnam is represented by Buck Wood and Art Brender, former Chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, so I presume they know what they’re doing. I’ll be very interested to see Romero’s response. No idea as yet what the timetable is for this. If any lawyers want to weigh in on this, as always please do. Thanks to Texas Redistricting for the heads up, and BOR has more.