Tuesday, April 7, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Pressley continues District 4 election contest

Nearly four months after a decisive loss to Greg Casar, who became the Austin City Council Member for District 4, Laura Pressley was in court Monday morning, trying to achieve there what she could not achieve at the ballot box: defeat Casar and win a seat on the Council.

Her lawsuit also follows a recount whose result was identical to the count on runoff election night, Dec. 16. Casar won by 1,291 votes, or nearly 65 percent.

Pressley says she is trying to overturn the election and have another one, which she presumes she would win. However, given her allegations, requests for information and her attorney’s arguments, it seems that she really wants to overturn the voting process.

According to Pressley’s most recent court filing, her lawsuit alleges that “illegal votes were counted, election officers prevented eligible voters from voting, election officers failed to count legal votes and election officers made mistakes that resulted in an election outcome which is not the true outcome.”

In order to prevail, Pressley must show “by clear and convincing evidence” that “voting irregularities materially affected the election results,” according to Texas case law cited by attorney Charles Herring, who is defending Casar.

“Texas courts require that the complaints ‘directly relate to the election process.’ Allegations that do not relate to the election are therefore legally irrelevant to the election contest,” Herring wrote.

Judge Dan Mills, who presided over Monday’s hearing, instructed David Rogers, Pressley’s attorney, to rewrite his pleadings and present to the court something more than mere allegations about voting irregularities. Mills is a visiting judge from the Blanco area.

Mills also considerably pared down Pressley’s voluminous requests for information from Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. In addition, he persuaded Assistant County Attorney Sherine Thomas to accept 50 cents a page for copying public records instead of the authorized $1 per page Travis County usually charges.

At the heart of Pressley’s argument is the notion that there were mistakes in the county’s use of its electronic voting system, the Hart Intercivic eSlate. Much of the argument in court related to use of Cast Vote Records, referred to as ballot images. Pressley argues that the Cast Vote Records are not, in fact, images of the cast ballots.

That arcane argument will continue, because Mills did not make a decision on the question. However, he did say as a voter that he thought the last image he would see before casting a ballot would in fact be a ballot image, which is what the state also says.

Still, Pressley said she was encouraged by the outcome.

After the hearing, DeBeauvoir talked about the eSlate system, which the county first purchased in 1999. She noted that the county has been using that system continuously since November 2000 and that it is certified both by federal and state governments.

DeBeauvoir said, “I have taken to heart some of the criticism people have had about electronic voting systems, so Travis County put in place several defensive systems, security measures, to protect against” either mistakes or malicious interference.

“Several years ago we implemented many strict procedures for proving that the system was working the way that it should,” DeBeauvoir said. She further explained that the elections division does various tests to ensure it is using the correct version of the software and that the machines are in proper working condition.

On Election Day, DeBeauvoir said, “We take equipment that is destined to go to any precinct (picked randomly), and we vote that equipment all day long as if it were in a precinct. So if it were to misbehave, it would do it right in front of us.” The county also watches the equipment with a camera at the same time.

DeBeauvoir said the current system is the best one that voters have had so far. However, she said the county is working with Hart Intercivic to come up with a system that produces a paper copy of the ballot after it is cast. She expects that might be ready for use after the 2016 presidential election.

DeBeauvoir is adamant that no one voted twice and that all of the ballots were accurately counted. She said Pressley “has made allegations that are very disturbing and wrong and unproven. I hope this will establish once and for all that these allegations are false, so the general public gets to hear what was the truth and what wasn’t.”

If the matter is not decided before then, Mills indicated that he would like to have a trial on the contest in June.

 

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council November 2014 Elections: The November 2014 Austin City Council elections marked a shift from an all-at-large City Council to one elected based mostly on geographic districts. The city's Mayor remains elected at-large.

District 4: District 4 is bordered by Lamar Boulevard and US 183 on the west, by Cameron Road on the east, 51st Street on the south and Braker Lane on the north.

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