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Dan Neil

Neil finally concedes in HD48

At long last, it’s finally over.

Republican Dan Neil dropped out of the race today for the Texas House seat in District 48.

Neil lost to Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, on Election Day by 16 votes. After a recount, Howard’s margin fell to 12 votes. Neil then exercised his right to contest the election, which sent the matter to the Texas House. There, Speaker Joe Straus appointed Rep. Will Hartnett, a Dallas Republican, to serve as a “master of discovery” and hold a trial-like hearing.

After four days of listening to voters whose votes were suspect, Hartnett eliminated several ballots, and Howard’s margin was reduced to just four votes.

But just like in any contest, a tight victory is still a victory. And Hartnett said in a recommendation that Howard should retain her seat.

That was followed by the unanimous vote of the special committee in favor of Howard. Hard to see a path to victory from there, I suppose. A statement from Rep. Howard is beneath the fold. The Trib has more.

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Howard wins again

It’s fourth and long for Dan Neil.

The House Election Contest Committee unanimously voted [Tuesday] to uphold Rep. Will Hartnett’s determination that Donna Howard won the long-disputed House District 48 seat. Committee members said Republican Dan Neil did not provide clear and convincing evidence to win. If Neil decides to challenge the committee’s vote, it will go to the House floor.

[…]

The committee, chaired by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, heard closing arguments from both sides today. Neil’s lawyer and former state Rep. Joe Nixon focused on five voters — two who lived outside the county and three who lived outside of the district during the election season. According to current statutes, residents are allowed to vote in their individual district if they reside in the same county and fill out a statement of residence. The three voters, Nixon said, did not fill out a statement of residence.

“It’s like having a suspended driver’s license,” he said. “You don’t really have one.”

Nixon said Neil was bearing the burden of human error, and that it was up to the committee to fix those mistakes if the true outcome could be ascertained — and, if not, to declare the election void.

Howard’s attorney, Randall “Buck” Wood, said Neil was asking for legislators to ignore existing law and make new law.

“They are simply asking you not to ask a judicial body, but to act as a legislative and political body,” Wood said. “But you’re sitting here as judge and jury.”

Hartnett said the only issue in question is where the individual actually lives.

“If we open the door to strict application to these requirements, we might as well allow re-dos for every time an election is this close,” he said.

After the committee vote, Neil said he was not surprised about the outcome, but about the unanimous vote. Going into today’s committee meeting, Neil said his team leaned toward taking the matter to the House floor, but he is likely to finalize that decision [Wednesday].

Seems to me that if we always adhered to the standard Nixon advocates, Sen. Bill Birdwell would have been knocked off the ballot last year. Be that as it may, I don’t know what Neil was expecting. I doubt he’ll get any more joy from the House, but hey, it’s Bob Perry’s his money. Rep. Howard released a statement that said:

I am obviously pleased with the committee’s decision regarding this extremely close election. Their unanimous vote reaffirms Master Hartnett’s thorough scrutiny of the details of this election contest. I look forward to continuing to serve the residents of House District 48.

As do the rest of us. Most of us, anyway. Postcards has more.

Neil in it till the bitter end

I guess he doesn’t have anything else to do right now.

After some vacillation, the Republican who is contesting his loss to incumbent state Rep. Donna Howard said [Wednesday] that he is now inclined to take his fight the distance.

Last month, Republican Dan Neil said his decision to continue contesting the election might depend on the upcoming recommendation of a special House committee. But now, he said, he wants to push the matter all the way to the House floor.

“I’m back and forth on it,” Neil said.

Howard beat Neil on Election Day by 16 votes. Eventually, Neil contested the election, which led to a trial-like hearing led by Rep. Will Hartnett, a Dallas Republican. Hartnett ruled that Howard should keep her seat.

Hartnett presented his opinion to a special House committee. And next week, the committee will hear from both sides’ lawyers. Then, the committee chair, Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, will announce the committee’s thoughts on the matter.

And ultimately, the members of the House could figure it out. No date has been set for the members to consider the matter.

Whatever. It’s his right, and Bob Perry’s his money. If nothing else, this ensures he gets cited in future news stories about election contests, as in “The last time a contest went all the way to the House floor was in 2011 when Dan Neil contested his loss to Rep. Donna Howard”. Gotta grab that little bit of immortality whenever you can, I always say.

Howard declared the winner in HD48

At long last.

Rep. Donna Howard won the House District 48 seat by four votes over Republican Dan Neil, according to state Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas. Hartnett was appointed to investigate their election after Neil challenged the results.

[…]

Hartnett’s recommendation goes now to a select committee chaired by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, which in turn will make a recommendation to the full House. The House’s decision is final. Neil can, if he chooses, withdraw his appeal at any time.

During the four-day hearing, Neil’s lawyer, Joe Nixon, argued the margin of votes was too close to definitively declare a winner. Howard’s lawyer, Randall “Buck” Wood, said Neil could not request a recount just because he did not like the results.

Seven voters moved out of Travis County but did not change their address before voting in the election, Hartnett wrote in his recommendation. Hartnett opened four ballots during the course of the trial and did not count one of those votes because of ineffective registration, which left Howard’s margin of victory at four votes, he said.

The full report will be out later; I’ll link to it when I find it. I expect Neil to withdraw his challenge before this ever get to the House, as Talmadge Heflin did in 2005 after contesting his close loss to Rep. Hubert Vo. But who knows, he may draw it out further still.

One important point to note, from Patricia Kilday Hart:

Representative Will Hartnett, Master of Discovery for the Election Contest for Texas House District 48 releases the following statement:

“After a thorough review of the numerous challenged ballots, I have concluded that Donna Howard won the House District 48 election by 4 votes.

Voters who had moved out of Travis County without changing their voter registration and returned to vote in their former precinct caused a net subtraction of 7 votes from Ms. Howard’s margin of victory. Counting 4 unopened ballots subtracted a net of 2 votes from Ms. Howard’s margin.

Striking 1 vote by a voter who was not effectively registered added 1 vote to her margin.

I have seen no evidence of any voter fraud or of any substantial errors by any Travis County election official. My report will be released later this evening.”

Emphasis mine. Fraud, rampant fraud, was also alleged by Heflin in 2005, and it too turned out to be nothing. Be sure to remind your local teabagger of this the next time they rant about illegal immigrants stealing elections or whatever else the voices in their heads are telling them. A statement from Rep. Howard is beneath the fold.

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HD48 election contest still going on

There’s still some more testimony to be heard in the election contest between Dan Neil and Rep. Donna Howard in HD48. That and closing arguments are scheduled for today. There was a key development in the contest on Thursday just before everyone headed home to hunker down for the Snowpocalypse:

On Thursday morning, a Travis County sheriff’s deputy arrived at the hearing with a locked bag of ballots. He was accompanied by Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, whose integrity was to be tested.

Neil’s lawyer, Joe Nixon, stood beside Ray Bonilla, one of Howard’s lawyers, as they examined the 265 nonmilitary mail-in ballots. DeBeauvoir observed from a couple of feet away.

Nixon said he thought the votes might have been included in the recount in December. Buck Wood, another one of Howard’s attorneys, said the votes had been properly eliminated.

In the end, it was determined that the votes had not been included in the recount.

Howard, Neil and members of their campaign staffs watched as the votes were announced by Nixon and agreed upon by Bonilla.

Neil said he wasn’t disappointed and was glad to get “to the bottom of it.”

Howard said the recount corroborated her position. “It lends more credibility to what we’ve said all along.”

If Thursday’s count hadn’t matched the number from the December recount, Neil’s effort to unseat Howard could have gotten a substantial boost. Such a finding would have cast suspicion over how the ballots were handled by the clerk’s office. And it might have provided enough of a reason for Hartnett to recommend something that Neil has been after all along: a new election.

Hartnett is Rep. Will Hartnett, the Special Master appointed by Speaker Joe Straus to investigate the matter. By all accounts, Howard is still leading though a couple of votes have been knocked off her tally. Barring anything dramatic, it looks like she’ll hold on, but we won’t know where things stand officially until Hartnett writes his report. Looks like we may have some answers this week, just in time for committee assignments.

UPDATE: We should have a result by Friday.

Update on the HD48 election contest

Patricia Kilday Hart sums up the state of things in HD48, where there’s a recount of the recount and a lot more testimony to come. I have no idea what to expect from this, but I think she’s right that it’s unlikely the House would vote in the end to seat Dan Neil, if only because if Special Master Will Hartnett tallies it in his favor, he’d likely be declared to be ahead of Donna Howard by an even smaller margin than she currently has. I can see a do-over election being called, for which I’d make Howard the favorite – the environment is considerably different than it was three months ago – and I can see Howard being seated if she manages to maintain the lead. Beyond that, who knows? Honestly, one more R wouldn’t mean that much now, and I’m sure the redistricting process will seek to make HD48 more GOP-friendly regardless of the outcome of this contest. We’ll see how it goes.

Senate stands down again

No vote on the rules till next week, so the 2/3 rule lives for a few more days.

In an hour-long caucus behind closed doors, Texas senators decided today to put off for a week a potentially acrimonious public debate over changing their rules. The discussion will occur next Wednesday, as Senate leaders had hinted yesterday.

In the meantime, the Senate will continue to operate under the rules it approved last session.

At issue: A proposal championed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to change a rule that requires two-thirds of senators to agree before a bill can be brought up for debate. Most senators say they favor leaving the rule as it is. Patrick insists the two-thirds rule thwarts debate on important issues — read that as ones that Republicans want to pass, and Democrats don’t.

Under the current rule, because the 12 Democrats constitute a third of the Senate, they can block debate on some issues.

As Trailblazers notes, the rules the Senate operated under last session allowed for voter ID legislation to be exempted from the two thirds rule. If the default is to simply use the previous rules, which I believe is the norm, then that’s what we’ll get this session as well. This is what I expect to happen, but we’ll see. Burka has more.

There was a little bit of House action to note:

Rep. Todd Hunter will now chair the select committee in charge of determining the HD 48 vote. After a recount, incumbent Democrat Donna Howard won by just 12 votes—a result challenged by opponent Dan Neil.

The rest of the committee: Eiland, who will serve as vice-chair, Kolkhorst, Giddings, Guillen, Bonnen, W. Smith, Madden, and Lewis. State Rep. Will Hartnett remains the master of discovery.

After the committee was read, Hunter took the floor to tell members to “be very careful in discussing this matter.” Members could inadvertently cause problems by discussing the controversy in casual conversation. The committee will ultimately issue a report on the challenge.

Hartnett’s discovery report is still the main thing. In 2005, once his report made it clear that Talmadge Heflin had no case in his contest against Rep. Hubert Vo, Heflin withdrew his challenge before the House voted on it; it may have been before the committee vote as well, I honestly don’t remember. Point being, the hope is that this committee winds up having little to do.

Howard files formal response to Neil’s election contest

Just before Christmas, Dan Neil filed an election contest that challenged the result of his race against Rep. Donna Howard in HD 48, in which Neil lost by 12 votes. Howard filed a response called “special exceptions” at that time, and now she has filed her official response to Neil’s contest.

Every allegation made by Republican Dan Neil “is either wrong under the law or has no factual basis,” Democratic state Rep. Donna Howard said today in her formal response to Neil’s contest to her narrow victory in the House District 48 election.

“I am still troubled by the lack of detail Mr. Neil has provided thus far,” Howard, D-Austin, said in a statement. “If his motives aren’t purely political, then he should have no problem answering questions about the allegations he has made.”

Also today, she filed a notice of intent to take Neil’s oral deposition.

Zach Vaughn, Neil’s campaign manager, said today that Neil “is perfectly willing to answer any questions.” Vaughn said that the campaign does not yet have all the information it needs from Travis County and has more research to do on information it received last week.

“She’ll get the details as we get the details,” Vaughn said of Howard. “We believe that once we get the information we originally requested, we’ll have proof of our case.”

That deposition, which is requested for January 4 at Buck Wood’s law office, ought to be fun. You can see Howard’s answer here and her deposition notice here. Among other things, Howard says that “In one glaring instance, Neil seeks to have ballots counted in this race which should not be counted but which, if counted, would increase Howard’s margin of victory from 12 votes to 38 votes.” Wonder what Neil’s answer to that will be.

In related news, Speaker Straus has appointed Rep. Will Hartnett to be the master of discovery for the contest. Hartnett was the master for the 2004 Heflin/Vo contest, and did a commendable job. I have no reason to doubt that he’ll do another good job this time around.

Neil files for election contest in HD48

I suppose this was inevitable.

Republican Dan Neil is continuing his challenge of state Rep. Donna Howard’s razor-thin election night victory with an appeal to the Texas House of Representatives.

Neil, who trailed Howard by 12 votes after a recount earlier this month, filed a contest of those results with the secretary of state late Monday afternoon, the deadline for such a challenge.

The decision now falls to the House members, who must either determine the clear winner based on the evidence or send it back to the voters.

House Speaker Joe Straus will soon appoint a representative to lead the investigation as well as a committee to hear to the case and make a recommendation to the full chamber.

The vote of the House is the final word.

The House last heard such a case after Republican Talmadge Heflin, a former powerful committee chairman, contested his loss to Democrat Hubert Vo in 2004, said Jeff Archer with the Texas Legislative Council . Heflin’s appeal did not clear the committee.

Neil maintains that, of the 51,500 ballots cast in the western Travis County district, some were mishandled or lost, a handful of legal votes were discounted, and more than 1,900 ineligible voters participated.

There were a couple of other contests filed in legislative races in 2004, and one in 2008, but all were dropped before they were heard by the House. From what I can tell, the last time that an election contest was upheld was after the 1980 election. It should be noted that even if Neil wins his challenge, that doesn’t mean he gets to be seated. According to Section 241.220 of the Elections Code, “In an election contest in which the election is declared void, the house or committee, as appropriate, shall include in its judgment an order directing the governor to order a new election.” In that 1980 case, the winner of the contest, who was a sitting Representative, lost the rematch election by a wide margin. Just something to keep in mind as we watch this unfold. My guess is that it’s more likely Neil withdraws his contest than he wins it, but we’ll see.

In the meantime, Howard has filed her response (called “special exceptions”) to Neil’s petition, which you can read here. Of interest, from the email that accompanied this:

“The level of detail in Mr. Neil’s petition does not match the seriousness of his claims. To demand the time and attention of the Legislature, I would have expected him to do more than just throw out a bunch of ideas to see what sticks,” said Howard.

The most notable deficiency was a vague reference to 1,900 ineligible voters. No specifics were given on who these voters are, whether or not they are registered to vote in House District 48, or whether or not they even voted in this election.

“The contestant in an election contest is required to provide specific information regarding the voters and votes in question. After reviewing what Mr. Neil has submitted, it is clear that he failed to perform the due diligence necessary to file a complete petition,” said Buck Wood who Howard has retained as her legal counsel.

Another puzzling allegation concerns those voters who live overseas, are eligible to vote only in federal elections, and cast a straight party vote. The contestant states that all of these ballots should be counted even though the voter wasn’t eligible to vote in the District 48 race.

“A closer inspection of these ballots reveals that Rep. Howard would have gained at least eight votes if straight ticket ballots from indefinite voters were tallied,” Wood said.

I haven’t seen Neil’s petition yet, but it is worth pointing out that there were some very specific claims of fraud made in the Heflin-Vo race of 2004. Most of them turned out to be bogus or unhelpful to Heflin’s cause, but they did identify specific voters whose ballots they said were invalid. One presumes Neil will either do the same or will drop the matter.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Howard still wins after recount in HD48

Her margin is margin is a bit smaller, but still greater than zero, and that’s what counts.

With the votes counted again, the Austin Democrat beat Republican challenger Dan Neil by just 12 votes, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said Thursday night.

Neil had called for the recount after Howard had been declared the winner of the Nov. 2 election by just 16 votes of more than 51,000 cast in northwestern Travis County’s District 48.

In the end, only a few mistakes were found — all of which were on paper ballots — and there were not enough discrepancies to change the outcome of the election, officials said.

Howard said she wasn’t surprised by the outcome but nevertheless was happy to put the recount behind her.

“I’m glad to have a final outcome that is actually final,” she said. “The work of the district continues.”

Before the results were announced Thursday, Neil sent out a news release complaining that the clerk’s office didn’t properly count several overseas ballots.

But DeBeauvoir said Neil’s concerns were unfounded.

That’s likely to be the end of it, though Neil may file for an election contest. There’s been at least one of those filed for the past few elections, with only the Heflin-Vo contest actually making it to the point of being investigated. My guess is if one is filed it will go nowhere, too.

Recount sought in HD48

Given how close this one was, a recount was to be expected.

Republican Dan Neil is seeking a recount in his challenge to state Rep. Donna Howard in the District 48 seat that represents part of Travis County.

Neil has filed the paperwork with the Texas secretary of state to request another look at the votes. Unofficial returns showed Howard winning by 16 votes out of more than 51,000 ballots cast.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure every legal vote is counted,” Neil said. “I want to be an advocate for the voters.”

That’s obviously a much smaller margin than was in CD27, but I expect the same outcome, mostly because there are fewer votes in play due to electronic balloting. We’ll see how it goes.

Greg notes that an election contest would not be a surprise, and speculates about what a 100th member would mean for Constitutional amendment purposes. I will say that the one thing I’m not terribly worried about for this term is the specter of awful amendments getting pushed through, because it still takes a 2/3 vote in the Senate for that just as it does in the House, and I feel confident that will be insurmountable for anything truly egregious. There are plenty of other things to be concerned about, but that one isn’t high on my list.

Rep. Donna Howard wins re-election

The closest election of this cycle has been decided, for now.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has defeated Republican challenger Dan Neil for state representative in District 48 by 16 votes.

The count came after Travis County officials tallied all provisional and overseas ballots, which were due to the county clerk’s office [Monday] evening.

On Nov. 2, Howard outpaced Neil by 15 votes. The Travis County Clerk’s Office said tonight that 58 additional votes were counted since election day.

Howard won with 25,026 votes, or 48.54 percent, to Neil’s 25,010, or 48.51 percent. Libertarian Ben Easton received 1,518 votes, 2.94 percent. A total of 51,554 ballots were counted.

There are still some formalities to be observed, and Neil will have until the end of them to request a recount. As noted before, that is unlikely to amount to anything. An election contest is also possible, but as I have not heard any complaints so far about irregularities, that seems a bit more remote. But I wouldn’t be too surprised by that, either. We won’t have truly final results for some time yet.