Updated, June 5:
In a letter posted on his Facebook page Thursday evening, state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, told supporters he was dropping his challenge of the Democratic primary election results in House District 90, a seat he's held since 1997.
Burnam said that after three failed attempts to access mail-in ballot records, with the latest denial coming from the Texas Supreme Court on May 29, it would be "impossible to prove that more than 111 ballots were illegally cast."
Weeks after the March 4 race, Burnam filed a lawsuit against Ramon Romero, the man who defeated him, alleging Romero used an iPad to sign up residents for mail-in ballots. State law permits the use of electronic signatures only at polling sites. Romero has said his campaign followed the law.
"I did not make this decision because I believe my opponent won fairly," Burnam wrote, "or that our suspicions of illegal conduct in the election have not played out." Burnam said he plans to revisit the issue after the general election in November, when the voting records he sought to obtain are public.
Romero responded to Burnam's decision in a campaign email blast to supporters, saying, "I applaud him for doing the right thing for the Democratic Party, our State, and the hardworking residents of District 90," he wrote. "It's time to thank Lon Burnam for his 18 years of service."
Romero does not face an opponent in the general election.
Updated, May 30:
The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday denied Fort Worth state Rep. Lon Burnam's request for access to ballots and mail-in ballot applications from the March Democratic primary election. The veteran lawmaker is suing Ramon Romero, who won by 111 votes, alleging election fraud.
"We will weigh our options in light of the court ruling today," Art Brender, Burnam's lawyer said in a statement. "It is disappointing that the court’s ruling deprives the public access to information about questionable election practices that many in the community have brought forward."
In the suit, Burnam alleges that Romero's campaign used an iPad to sign up residents for mail-in ballots. State law prohibits the use of electronic signatures except at polling sites. Romero has said his campaign followed the law. And since no candidates from other parties filed to run in the general election, Romero is operating as though he will be representing House District 90 in the 84th Texas Legislature.
"While this ruling is not technically the end of the frivolous election challenge filed by my former opponent, it may be seen properly as the beginning of the end," Romero wrote in an email to supporters Friday afternoon.
A hearing is scheduled for June 16 to consider Romero's motion to dismiss the case.
Thursday's decision marked the third time a court has denied Burnam's request for election records.
Original story, May 16:
As the Texas Supreme Court reviews state Rep. Lon Burnam’s petition to gain access to ballots and mail-in ballot applications submitted for this year’s Democratic primary, the Fort Worth legislator says his case alleging illegalities in his March 4 loss will continue no matter what the court decides.
Burnam, who has served in the Texas House since 1997, lost in this year’s Democratic primary to Ramon Romero Jr. by 111 votes. Burnam has filed a lawsuit alleging that Romero's campaign used an iPad to sign up residents for mail-in ballots. State law permits the use of electronic signatures only at polling sites. Romero has said his campaign did everything by the book.
Late this week, the Supreme Court began reviewing Burnam's petition to gain access to the ballots and mail-in ballot applications. Art Brender, an attorney for Burnam, has appealed to the court to essentially override decisions by two lower courts denying access to the confidential voting documents. The Texas 2nd Court of Appeals on Monday denied his petition to access the records. That upheld a March decision by a Tarrant County district court judge.
"This is about the discovery process," Burnam said, "and it’s about getting access to information. Obviously, we’re going to follow through trying to get the information."
Brender said their case, filed in a Tarrant County court, hinges on more than these records. “It would certainly make our job more difficult, but we’ll see what happens. Certainly the easiest and most expeditious and direct way is if we’re able to look at these applications," he said.
Burnam has said he is confident that examining the more than 180 mail-in ballots in question could change the outcome of the primary.
"I’ve had over 300 people donate to this lawsuit all because people are concerned," Burnam said. "We have a history of problems with vote harvesting in Fort Worth, but it’s never been this obvious to me. As much as I would like to change the outcome of the election, I think it’s important to hold people accountable that are breaking the law and undermining our electoral process."
Romero, who does not have an opponent in November, said that while the case plays out, he is making trips to Austin, ahead of the 84th legislative session, to familiarize himself with the people and the process.
“I’m beginning to question what this really is all about," he said of the lawsuit. "It’s pretty obvious to me that their claim is and always has been baseless. It really never has been anything that I felt like was going to go anywhere.”