Former PA councilman Jones loses fight to reinstate ballots

David Yates Aug. 7, 2008, 4:51am

Cal Jones

Former Port Arthur Councilman Carroll "Cal" Jones will keep the prefix "former" in front of his name.

On Aug. 4, Judge Gary Sanderson ruled the suspect ballots that Jones was trying to have reinstated were properly discarded.

Following a two day bench trail that began July 28, Judge Sanderson was tasked to decide whether discrimination, fraud or mistake played any part in Jones losing his seat in the May 10th elections.

Jones lost his seat to Elizabeth Segler by a vote of 191 to 205, coming up just 15 votes shy of victory.

As the Southeast Texas Record reported last month, Jones filed a lawsuit June 3 in hopes Sanderson would reinstate three dozen suspect mail-in ballot applications and declare him victorious.

"The Court orders that (six ballots) are rejected, shall not be opened, and that the May 10 election … remain as canvassed by the city of Port Arthur with Segler being the winner …," Judge Sanderson wrote in his order.

After losing the May election, Jones immediately demanded a recount, delaying Segler's swearing-in ceremony, but gave up on that course of action and instead pursued legal recourse. Jones demanded that 40-plus discarded ballot applications and subsequent 15 votes be reinstated.

According to testimony during the trial, the Early Voting Ballot Board found that the mail-in ballot applications shared similar handwriting and were submitted without the signature of the person responsible for filling out the applications.

Toya Hubert, an Early Voting Board member, testified that any votes found to be in violation of the law should not be counted.

Port Arthur City Secretary Terri Hanks also testified that she suspected voter fraud.

Under the instruction of the Texas secretary of state, Hanks reported the incident to the Jefferson County district attorney's office. The DA investigated, but found no criminal wrongdoing.

After the DA found no illegality, Hanks granted some of the suspect applications. However, the Ballot Board refused to accept the 30-plus ballots arising from the mysterious applications, testimony and court documents show.

According to Port Arthur's election code, a voter can be assisted with a mail-in ballot application, but the person assisting has to sign his or her name on the application.

All of the suspect applications had different voter signatures, but shared the same ink, handwriting and postage and lacked an assistor's signature, officials said.

Jones' attorney, Kent Johns, presented the possibility that discrimination may have played a role in his client's defeat.

Testimony and court papers showed Jones requested 100 mail-in ballot applications from Hanks. Lacking 100 applications, Hanks made 100 copies of the application from a master form. All the suspect applications are thought to be copies of the master form.

While questioning Hanks, Johns insinuated Hanks knew the applications were from Jones' supporters, since they were copies. He also pointed out to Hanks that her job description did not include investigating possible voter fraud.

In response, Hanks testified that there was no way of knowing where the applications came from, since it's not illegal to make copies and that it was "her duty to investigate to maintain the purity of the election."

Johns also insinuated Hanks tainted the early election board when she told its members the suspect applications were being investigated by the DA's office.

In his opening remarks, Johns told Judge Sanderson that 15 votes (the amount Jones needs to win) should count because of Hanks' actions.

The defense argued there is no evidence of fraud, discrimination or mistake, and not accepting unsigned assisted mail-in applications was legally the right course of action.

Johns is a partner in the Johns & Johns law firm.

Seglar is represented in part by attorney Jill Chatelain of the McPherson, Monk, Hughes, Bradley, Wimberley & Steele law firm.

Case No. B181-861

More News