/Court weighs motions in House District 79 dispute

Court weighs motions in House District 79 dispute

Billie Faye Keys (all of Smith County), Joshua Allen, Courtney Rena Fortune and Karli Ford Matthews – all sued March 30, claiming that Speaker Philip Gunn and Reps. Mark Baker and Richard Bennett, Charles Jim Beckett and Bill Denny deprived them of their constitutional right of vote and equal protection under law. The lawsuit is based on the Nov. 3, 2015 general election for a state representative from District79. This district includes Smith County and a portion of Jasper County. Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson on Tuesday ordered that proceedings be halted until the court rules upon three defense dismissal motions. These motions were also filed Tuesday and include claims regarding legislative immunity from prosecution as well as whether a federal court is authorized to settle election contests for Congress. The election night results showed that Blaine “Bo” Eaton (a Democrat) and Mark Tullos (a Republican) had the same number votes. The winner must be determined by the state law. Eaton won a coin toss and was elected to his seat at the January session. Tullos, however, had petitioned for the House to determine the election. Gunn appointed a special committee to hold hearings. They recommended that Tullos be elected instead. The local election committee counted many ballots as affadavits due to voters having moved and failing to update their addesses. However, the House committee didn’t count all the affidavits when seating Tullos. All five of the complainants are Smith County residents and claim they voted by affidavit. They want to know if their votes have been counted.