Two Texas Democrat candidates, who lost their respective races by razor-thin margins in the March 2018 Primary, are challenging results in a new lawsuit. It alleges the winning Democrats committed voter fraud in a county already fraught with investigations into alleged mail ballot irregularities.
“The election from beginning to end was marred with fraud and irregularities and maladministration by the people in charge of the elections,” said Jerad Najvar, the Houston-based attorney representing Starr County “contestants” Leticia Garza Galvan and Martie Garcia Vela, the Democrats who lost in their primary bids for county and judicial offices.
Garza Galvan ran against incumbent County Judge Eloy Vera. A requested recount showed she lost by only 159 votes. Garcia Vela challenged former Rio Grande City Mayor Baldemar “Balde” Garza for a judgeship presiding over the 229th District Court. When ballots were reviewed, she came up short by 106 votes. The contestants do not believe the final vote counts are accurate.
On Monday, Najvar held a press conference on the steps of the Starr County Courthouse and spoke to some of the complaint’s numerous allegations, including voter fraud by mail and official failures. He told reporters, “The election department failed to send ballots to dozens, if not hundreds of voters on time, which basically disenfranchised them because they didn’t have the ballots in time to vote in this election.”
The complaint, filed on Friday, alleged the election was tainted by fraud on many other levels such as the county’s administrative record keeping, official misuse of power, in-person voting irregularities, failure to secure ballot boxes, and illegal vote harvesting.
The complaint claimed at least six people working for the opponents “solicited false information for mail ballot applications” and provided illegal assistance to voters at the polls. The court document accused County Commissioner Pena of manipulating polling locations and setting up sites and hours more favorable to “contestees” Vera and Garza. It asserts that Starr County District Attorney Omar Escobar “vigorously and emotionally opposed” the Garza Galvan and Garcia Vela campaigns. The petitioners believe that the DA did not do enough to stop vote harvesters who they alleged benefited Vera and Garza.
“The official records thus far received by contestants are in a shambles and rife with factual errors regarding when ballot by mail applications were received, when ballots were purportedly mailed to voters, and when and how they were received by election officials,” states the complaint.
In January, Escobar vowed to crack down on voter fraud after questionable voter records and mail-in ballot applications surfaced. He also voiced concerns over voter harvesting and illegal voting by non-residents and noncitizens. The DA opened voter fraud prosecutions with support from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. To date, seven people were arrested.
Starr County, located on the U.S.-Mexico Border in the Rio Grande Valley, is one of 13 Texas counties with more registered voters than eligible residents, according to the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), a national election integrity law firm. In March 2016, they filed a civil lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) against the county’s election administrator. The complaint alleged that the voter rolls contained more registered voters than adults citizens residing in Starr County at the time.
Last month, a similar election contest lawsuit was filed in Dallas County. Former District Judge Elizabeth Frizell, a Democrat, alleged mail-in ballot voter fraud impacted the outcome of her primary race for Dallas County DA. She lost by 589 votes. She sued the winner, Democrat John Creuzot, also a former district judge, the Dallas County Democrat Party chair, the county’s election administrator, and current DA Faith Johnson (R).
Dallas County election officials also sequestered more than 1,200 of the March primary’s mail-in ballot applications as suspicious filings. Last year, they pulled around 700 questionable ballots to sort out the results of a May municipal election riddled with accusations of forged ballot signatures in two hotly contested Democrat Dallas City Council races. The Texas Attorney General’s office joined an investigation led by DA Johnson. It resulted in a grand jury indictment of the alleged suspect charged with forging signatures on absentee ballots under a fake name.
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