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2014-12-25

City mayoral election contested

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The other shoe from the Nov. 4 General Election has finally dropped. A petition has been filed in the 198th District Court contesting the 2014 City of Bandera mayoral election.
As per state statutes, candidate Brian K. Black filed a lawsuit against Mayor John Hegemier on Tuesday, Dec. 16. Black is apparently being represented by attorney Daniel McNeil. Also included in the lawsuit is former Mayor Don Clark as canvasser of the contested election.
In the court document, which Black filed pro se, he contends the "the outcome of the contested election, as shown by the final canvass, is not the true outcome." According to the petition, "illegal votes" were counted for Hegemier and-or that persons officially involved in the administration of the contested election failed to count legal votes for Black and-or engaged in other fraud and-or illegal conduct and-or mistakes.
The final canvass showed 117 - 45 percent - of the total votes for Hegemier and 111 - 42.68 percent - for Black, a difference of six votes. A recount held Nov. 14 came up with the same numbers.
A host of alleged voting problems were reported in the Oct. 23 edition of the Bandera County Courier, including voters using business addresses as their physical addresses in the city, county residents casting votes in the city election and out-of-state residents being allowed to vote in the city election, among others. These problems have been reported to the Texas Election Commission, Secretary of State and the Bandera County Elections Administrator Toba Perez-Wright.
Additionally, according to Black's petition, the recount report revealed 20 under voters. Under voters were described by Perez-Wright as eligible registered voters who appeared at the polling place, but failed to cast a vote for any candidate or political party.
According to Black's petition, the San Antonio mayoral election of May 7, 2005, had a one percent under voters. In the case of Test vs. Suniga, election experts suggested that an under vote rate of 0.5 percent was considered normal. The experts further noted that a higher percentage of under votes suggests the possibility that votes may have been lost. "The under vote rate in the City of Bandera Precinct 305 mayoral election was 7.14 percent. This rate is suspiciously high, again suggesting that votes may have been lost," the petition states.
Additionally, Black contends that some voters reported that the review screen did not reflect the choices they had made on their ballots and will produce witnesses to that effect. State rules apparently provide that voters can receive up to two additional ballots if they had made a mistake on their original ballot. According to the petition, however, a city resident, who asked for assistance, was allegedly told by an election worker that "if he made a mistake he would not be allowed to vote for mayor." The voter had previously stated his intention to vote for Black.
Also problematic, according to the court document, is that six absentee votes cast for Hegemier "were identical in style, penmanship, color of ink, exact duplication and manner of marking in the ballot boxes." The petition continued: "Based on the evidence found during the recount it was apparent that weather [sic] due to mistake or fraud, the six (6) Absentee Ballots for Hegemier were highly questionable and would leave any reasonable person to believe that the ballots were filled out by one hand."
Using four examples, Black's court filing also calls into question the voting eligibility of city voters - one apparently lives on a vacant lot, another no longer lives in the city and two gave an address of a business located in Bandera City Park as their physical address within the municipality.
"As a result of such irregularities, the canvass does not reflect the true results. Upon trial of this contest, contestants will show that the true winner of the election cannot be determined. Contestant requests that the election result be declared void, and that a new election be held. Should a new election be ordered by the Court, Contestant requests that this Court maintain supervisory jurisdiction over the election, and issue sufficient orders to prevent a recurrence of the irregularities which impugned this election in question."
Hegemier must reply to the filing by Dec. 29. The Texas Municipal League cannot represent him in the litigation, he said. Hegemier intends to file a General Denial to Black's suit. He added, "Whatever the district judge decides is fine with me."
"In the end, if I lose, I want to make sure I lost fair and square," Black said in an interview. "I just want to make sure the process was legal and transparent - and all candidates were on a level playing field. Contesting this election was the only way we knew to ensure that everything was on the up and up."