Judge rules Calhoun County clerk's race will not get new election

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

April 12, 2014 at 12:01 a.m.
Updated April 11, 2014 at 11:12 p.m.

A Calhoun County candidate's request for a new election was denied Thursday.

"We're disappointed, and we disagree with the outcome," said Victoria attorney Bernard Klimist, who represented candidate Grace Gonzalez. "We're not planning to appeal."

On March 26, Gonzalez filed a petition for a new county clerk primary election after the Texas secretary of state's office alerted Calhoun County Election Administrator Dora Garcia that a registered voter had cast two ballots in the primary.

The county clerk's race was close enough that one vote might have affected the outcome.

During Thursday's hearing, visiting District Judge Pat Kelly, of Victoria, upheld the primary election results for the Calhoun County clerk's race.

Evelyn Burleson, 78, Calhoun County Democratic chairwoman, is under investigation by the secretary of state's office and the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office for possibly voting twice - once during early voting in the primary and again election day.

"Mrs. Burleson admitted that she voted twice and that it was an error, a mistake," said Jane Lane, the attorney who represented Shelby Sebastian, another candidate for the nomination. "Any time humans are involved in any process, there are going to be mistakes."

Sebastian received 763 votes while only one vote separated the second- and third-place candidates, Susan Riley and Gonzalez.

Gonzalez requested a recount, which resulted in a tie. Riley and Gonzalez, who both received 630 votes, tossed a coin that determined Riley the winner.

Riley will face Sebastian in the runoff election May 27.

Casting lots, or a game of chance, is standard procedure for breaking a tie in an election, said Alicia Pierce, spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state's office.

Under the election code, Gonzalez had to sue the two other candidates, though they had done nothing wrong, said Lee Keeling, attorney for Riley.

"Judge Kelly, who is knowledgeable about election code, heard the evidence and determined there was an illegal vote," Lane said. "There was not sufficient evidence to show that a mistake made by an election official affected the outcome of the election."

Riley is pleased with the outcome of the trial. She is ready to move forward with her campaign, she said.

Sebastian also agreed with the judge's ruling. She is grateful that the lawsuit is behind her, so she can focus on the upcoming election.

"I'm still trying to soak up what happened yesterday," Gonzalez said. "I was speechless."

Gonzalez said that she could not understand why anyone would take such a chance by voting twice.

"I'll most likely run again," Gonzalez said. "Never say never - I'm not sure what God has in store for me."

Russell Cain, Calhoun County Republican Party chairman, said the party is interested in what is happening and everyone being treated fairly.

"I know Evelyn is almost 80, and it wasn't deliberate. But if I had done that as a Republican, I'd have been tarred to the wall," he said. "I know all the people who were in the courtroom, and I know their families, and I know we all love Calhoun County and want to make it a better place to live."

An investigation into the illegal vote, which is a third-degree felony, is ongoing, said Calhoun County District Attorney Dan Heard.

"Everyone hopes Mrs. Burleson does not face criminal charges," Lane said.



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