Allegations of illegal votes being cast are front and center of a lawsuit filed by a Harris County constable chief deputy against two candidates who made the runoff in a tightly contested Democratic primary election for the Precinct 3 Constable’s position.
Jasen Rabalais, who is the chief deputy over community services and the Harris County Joint Task Force for Constable Precinct 3, filed the lawsuit against Michel Pappillion and Sherman Eagleton, saying that a campaign worker for Pappillion “deliberately falsified, illegally completed or unlawfully influenced the ballots and early voting applications of elderly residents in Harris County.” It is Rabalais’ hope to prove that this was a calculated move that altered the election’s outcome.
Pappillion edged Rabalais in the primary election by 37 votes. Eagleton received 3,678 votes, which was more than 800 votes more than either Pappillion or Rabalais out of the 18,000 votes cast. Eagleton’s vote total was about 30 percent higher than Pappillion’s. Rabalais came in third in the race, which meant that Pappillion and Eagleton are slated to face each other in a May 24 runoff election.
In November, whoever the declared winner is will face Republican Dan Webb for the Precinct 3 Constable position.
Rabalais’ attorney Mike Stafford said the scheduled runoff would not be affected at this time. He says Rabalais is seeking to make sure the voting process followed by the rules.
“(Jasen Rabalais) is not a sore loser,” Stafford said. “He wants to be sure there was no votes cast illegally.”
Pappillion said the case has no merit and is “frivolous.”
“I think that since Jasen Rabalais spent an exuberant amount of money thinking that he could buy an election and, unfortunately in his case, the people spoke and decided to make their own choice,” Pappillion said. “He did not make the runoff and it is all sour grapes for him.”
Stafford said that his office has requested records from the Harris County Clerk and they are looking through them at the moment.
A trial date has been set for 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Harris County 164th District Civil Court. The lawsuit also request for a special judge to preside, saying all judges of Harris County District Court judges or those that reside in Harris County, should be disqualified.
“If the evidence says there was voter fraud, we will pursue it,” Stafford said.
Rabalias’ lawsuit stems from accusations of “illegal tactics” used to cast unauthorized ballots for elderly voters. According to court documents, a campaign worker had originally approached the Rabalais campaign, offering her services by delivering votes from senior citizens thanks to her ability to access facilities where they reside. It further states that the campaign worker “represented that she would use her credentials as a healthcare worker to enter” the facilities and “ensure that the residents completed their ballots for the campaign worker’s preferred candidate.” The worker apparently said she could “guarantee” 1,000 votes using her tactics. However, Rabalais’ campaign determined that the worker’s tactics were “unethical and potentially violated the Election Code” and refused her services.
However, the documents state that this same campaign worker was spotted at a polling location wearing a Pappillion T-shirt. The documents also state that the worker was contacted by the Rabalais campaign after Election Day and, in a recorded conversation, she said that she “does the mail ballots because (she is) a nurse” and “has access to the nursing homes” and “codes to get in there.” Court documents also state that the campaign worker said after delivering the applications to the seniors, she would return once the ballots were received and get the seniors to absentee vote for the person she is working for. In addition, the worker said she helps to fill out the ballots on behalf of the absentee voters.
Rabalais feels the campaign worker’s illegal tactics made the difference in the election and therefore is requesting a new election, have the illegal votes subtracted or declare the outcome of the election.
Pappillion said there is nothing to the allegations against the campaign worker.
Lee Kaplan, Eagleton’s attorney, said his client has done nothing wrong.
“We played by the rules,” Kaplan said. “There is no reason to seek a new primary election. (Eagleton) is ready to go into the runoff election.”
Eagleton also denies every allegation in Rabalais’ lawsuit.
Ken Jones, the current constable whose retirement at the end of his term led to the election, has previously stated that he endorsed Rabalais as his successor.
“My endorsement of Rabalais stays the same and not with any other candidate,” Jones said. “But I am going to stay out of the lawsuit. That is his business.”
Pappillion feels there is more motivation behind the lawsuit than just illegal voting.
“I believe this is a conspiracy to undermine my candidacy because I’m an outside candidate,” Pappillion said. “And it points to the fact that change needs to be made in the constable office. Once we get past this trial, I hope we are successful in putting this issue to rest and go on to focus on what really matters and compare my experience against my other opponent.”