The longstanding former mayor of a Texas border city contends that voter fraud and bribery cost him another term in a June runoff race. Now, he is suing his opponent and asking the Hidalgo County District Court for a new election.
Norberto “Beto” Salinas, who served as Mission mayor since 1998, lost by 157 votes to Armando “Doc” O’Caña in the June 9 contest. The ousted mayor accused O’Caña and his campaign team of harvesting mail-in ballots, “illegal voting,” and bribing voters in a petition filed Wednesday.
The 17-page document stated the incumbent received 49.95 percent or 3,085 of 6,175 votes in a May 5 nonpartisan municipal election, leaving him three votes shy of the majority. That prompted the June runoff against O’Caña, a city councilman who only got 41.63 percent of the votes. Then, in 34 days, the “electorate grew by 600 votes” and nearly 6,800 individuals cast ballots. This time, O’Caña received 51.15 percent or 3,475 votes, which the lawsuit called “a stunning reversal of political fortune.”
The court document outlined a case for a “peculiar election” where the runoff saw a better turnout than the previous.
“It seems three very unlikely things happened within 34 days: 1) more than one hundred voters decided that they had become residents of Mission, Texas, and changed their voter registration just to take part in this election, 2) a runoff election in the dire heat of a Texas summer suddenly experiences earth-shattering turnout, and 3) a candidate that had barely broken 40 percent in the previous election won,” stated the lawsuit. “There are dozens of possible explanations for this outcome. Some may be legal. Some are unequivocally not.”
The attorneys for Salinas, one of whom is the former mayor’s son, argued a “systematic and flagrant scheme to cast illegal votes to elect O’Caña” was in play and more than 158 illegal votes were cast.
According to the petition, “dozens of voters” came to the Salinas team after the election and said they were paid or “bribed by Ocana [sic] campaign workers” who offered items from wood to cash.
The lawsuit devoted several pages to purported instances of mail-in ballot fraud, estimating at least 75 of these votes were “inappropriately assisted or illegally in the possession of Ocana [sic] campaign operatives.” It claimed mismatched absentee ballots and carrier envelopes, individuals not eligible for voting by mail, and those who said they never requested absentee ballots and did not receive them “yet they are listed as having voted.”
According to the petition, individuals without proper ID were allowed to vote for O’Caña but 13 mail-in ballots, a handful of provisional and other votes for Salinas were “illegally rejected.”
The contestant accused O’Caña of illegally voting in the petition, stating that six people who “do not reside in Mission” were registered to vote in a 1,302 square foot Mission home where they claimed to live with their children. Those named were O’Caña family members.
Additionally, the lawsuit blamed administrative errors and irregularities in the casting and counting of ballots. It said the final tally did not reflect “the true result.”
Salinas asked the court for the opportunity to plead his case and be declared the winner. However, if the court cannot determine a victor, Salinas wants a new election.
Interestingly, this case shares some similarities with a recent justice of the peace runoff in Kleberg County:
Breitbart Texas reported that challenger Ofelia “Ofie” Gutierrez contested the results of the Kleberg County Democrat primary election for Precinct 4 JP against longtime incumbent Esequiel “Cheque” De La Paz. She then sued her opponent. In court, Gutierrez’s attorney argued that five adults registered to vote used De La Paz’s home address and two others did not live in the county. This netted seven questionable ballots cast by individuals either related to De La Paz or connected to members of his immediate family.
Here, the presiding judge tossed the results of the JP race, ruled those seven votes invalid, and ordered a new election must be held.
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