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Judge dismisses Pressley election contest

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Visiting Judge Dan Mills dismissed former City Council candidate Laura Pressley’s election contest lawsuit against Council Member Greg Casar on Tuesday, citing a lack of evidence that would throw into doubt the outcome of the December runoff election for Council’s District 4 seat.

Casar won the election by 1,291 votes, or 65 percent, compared to Pressley’s 35 percent. Pressley’s lawyers did not present what the judge considered even a scintilla of credible evidence that would subtract any votes from Casar’s column or add any votes to Pressley’s tally.

In granting the motion for summary judgment filed by Casar’s attorneys, Chuck Herring and Jessica Palvino, Mills rejected Pressley’s argument concerning the definition of a ballot image or cast vote record as used in the Texas Election Code. Pressley and her supporters seemed much more interested in disputing Travis County’s eSlate electronic voting system than overturning Casar’s election.

Pressley’s attorney, Mark Cohen, asked the judge not to grant Casar’s motion but to allow the trial, which had been tentatively scheduled for the end of July. The judge said it would speed up the process if he granted the motion, in which case Pressley could go to the Court of Appeals with her arguments concerning the cast vote record and the ballot image. If the Court of Appeals agreed with Pressley, the case would be sent back to Travis County and to Mills for a trial.

Following the ruling, Pressley said, “I was not expecting this, and I think this is a big issue with our elections; the cast vote record is not a ballot image by the statutes.” Pressley seemed to be leaning toward appealing the decision, but she said she would have to discuss it with her attorneys before making a decision.

In addition to arguing against Casar’s motion, Cohen asked the judge for more information from Travis County. Travis County’s attorneys, Sherine Thomas and Andrew Williams, argued strenuously against more “fishing” by the plaintiff.

Williams said Pressley’s team had asked for many documents that were beyond the scope of an election contest. “This has gone from a fishing expedition to a fishing expedition for the Loch Ness Monster,” he said. The judge seemed to agree, directing Cohen not to make any more requests of Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir’s office.

Following the hearing, DeBeauvoir told reporters that her office had spent about $40,000 on Pressley’s lawsuit, which will be borne by Travis County taxpayers. Thomas, who is head of the civil litigation division of the County Attorney’s Office, said her office had also spent thousands of dollars on the case.

Because Pressley and her lawyers seem to be saying that the eSlate system does not provide the kind of verification that the law requires, there is discussion about how much it would cost to replace the system. DeBeauvoir told reporters, “If we were to go out and buy a brand new voting system right now … the price tag is $14 million.” She added that Travis County is not contemplating buying such a system. The county wants to build its own voting system.

On Tuesday, Mills also ordered Pressley to pay $250 in attorneys’ fees to Travis County because the county was forced to prepare and argue for payment of about $800 in fees to copy various documents from the Travis County Clerk’s Office.

Casar told the Austin Monitor, “I’m glad it’s over.” He’s also glad to be getting back to his job of serving on Council. Casar added, “I think one of my main feelings has been that I’ve been blessed to have this great group of attorneys to handle this issue. What seemed like a very simple issue turned out to be quite an ordeal.”

When reminded that Pressley may appeal the summary judgment to the 3rd Court of Appeals, Casar said if that is the case, “We will keep on defending the legitimacy of the electronic voting system for our county and so many other counties.”

Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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