Casar Returns Fire
Council Member’s legal team responds to Pressley’s election contest
By Michael King,
7:00AM, Tue. Feb. 24, 2015
On Feb. 19, attorneys for District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar filed a response to defeated candidate Laura Pressley’s election contest pleading, calling it “a scattershot attack on virtually the entire election process.” They argue that Pressley’s complaints are vague, insufficient, and legally irrelevant to the election outcome.
As we’ve reported, Pressley lost the December 14 D4 run-off to Casar by 1,291 votes (65%-35%), and the Jan. 6 recount she requested confirmed precisely the original results. She was not satisfied by the recount – neither the result, nor the procedures used for the recount by the Travis County Elections Division – and after her complaints to the Texas Secretary of State were rejected, she filed an election contest, insisting that there were apparently sufficient voting “discrepancies” that the election outcome cannot be known and the court should therefore order a new election, to be conducted by paper ballot.
Under the terms of election law, a contest is filed against the winning candidate – in this case, CM Casar. His attorneys, Charles Herring and Kurt Kuhn (currently acting pro bono, but there is talk of fundraising on Casar’s behalf) point out that Pressley told the Chronicle that Casar “did nothing wrong,” and most of her allegations have to do with procedures for the run-off and the subsequent recount, supervised by Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. Under state law, they argue, Pressley must show by “clear and convincing evidence” that “voting irregularities materially affected the election results.” As they see it, “Pressley is statutorily limited to addressing the election outcome. Thus … many of Pressley’s election-recount allegations are legally irrelevant to this election outcome.”
Casar’s response specifically points out that Pressley’s challenge calls into question only 121 votes, in a run-off decided by 1,291 votes; unless she can substantively increase that total, she cannot meet the statutory requirement. Pressley has also claimed that the mathematical results of the run-off (that she virtually duplicated her 35% result from the original election) are unlikely on their face, and thus suggest some problem with the voting process; the attorneys respond by summarizing Pressley’s “polarizing, curious statements on a wide range of issues” (widely reported in the interim between the general election and the run-off), say her statistical speculations are irrelevant, and conclude, “That an unusual candidate received an unusual vote total does not meet the required standard to overturn an election.”
Meanwhile, Pressley’s attorney (David Rogers) has filed an amended version of his original contest, not dramatically different from the first version, but adding extensive exhibits and a few new twists – e.g., it contemplates personally deposing all 4,000-plus run-off voters as the only method of confirming the results, otherwise, the judge must order a new election. It also reiterates the extensive list of discovery requests of the election materials it would like the judge to require to be produced by Travis County, including not only the facsimile “ballot images” Pressley insists are required under state law – instead of the “cast vote records” provided at the recount and approved by the Secretary of State – and many other election-related documents, but even names and addresses of all personnel having anything to do with Travis County elections or voting machines over the last several elections. (As a fishing expedition, Pressley’s pleading rivals the final voyage of Captain Ahab.) Casar’s response notes that the list amounts to “improper discovery requests couched as a pleading, and should be struck. Additionally, the discovery requests are directed to Travis County, who is not a party to this election contest.”
Casar’s attorneys ask that the court require Pressley to “replead her defective allegations within seven days.” Meanwhile, Pressley is also disputing the costs she was assessed for the recount, which must be paid by the defeated party requesting the recount (should it not succeed in overturning the results). Pressley was assessed $4,233.63 for the costs directly associated with the recount (covering temporary employees, sheriff expenses, and copy costs), and she has requested a reconsideration, claiming she believes she’s liable for only $1,981.23. Of course, none of that accounting addresses the institutional and taxpayer costs incurred thus far by the city, county, and state (and now CM Casar), nor the legal and judicial costs associated with Pressley’s pending contest.