With Republican lawyers checking a nearby room for files of new evidence Thursday, and a Texas Legislative Master of Inquiry saying that the legislature may take an interest in the “total number of illegal ballots” the election victory of Houston Representative Hubert Vo was narrowed but not overturned in the first day of a hearing that will continue into Friday.
Although official discovery period for the unusual legislative challenge ended on Jan. 15*, Republican attorneys produced 22 new depositions this week and in some cases held up the Thursday inquiry while they checked a nearby room to see if fresh depositions were there on file.
In the hearing that lasted until 7:30 Thursday evening, specially appointed Master of Inquiry for the election contest, Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) sifted through some 50 allegations of illegal voting, ruling informally that two of the cases were illegal ballots for the Republican challenger, while 12 were deducted from Vo’s side.
Those numbers were added to an initial roster of about 80 cases where lawyers for both sides agreed there were 36 illegal ballots cast for the Republican, 44 for Vo. At the end of the day a net 18 votes were deducted from Vo’s 33-vote election margin, narrowing the race, but not overturning it.
All rulings on Thursday were informal ones, with Harnett explaining his sense of the matter and inviting further arguments prior to his report which is expected next week.
Early in the day, Hartnett refused to admit tapes made by a polling firm hired to call alleged illegal voters and determine their vote. Vo attorney Larry Veselka of Houston argued that it would be difficult to authenticate the tapes and that often the questions were leading, with pollsters first asking: “Did you vote straight ticket Democrat?”
At one point in the hearing, Hartnett said the full report will go to the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. At that point, he warned, lawmakers may be interested in the total number of illegal ballots cast as they decide whether to seat Vo’s opponent or call a new election.
Note: *Date corrected.