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There’s a story to tell—actually numerous, individual stories—but their summation is centered on one thing: the longtime, illegal voting practices and abuses in South Texas.
This chapter in the story begins with why I chose to get involved in South Texas voting problems.
It was the year 2000. Some will recall it as the year of the dangling chads in the contested wrangling of political factions following the November general election. Time seemingly stood still during the furor over the presidential race. Scrutinized under the national microscope, dangling chads were flying off ballots in Florida—sometimes with assistance. It held the nation riveted. In the sea of flying accusations of illegalities compromising the election’s integrity, it became a national debate of finger pointing. It was not the finest hour for partisan politics. All the while, it left citizens across the country bewildered, talking and frustrated.
But our story in Hidalgo County begins long before the dangling chads of the post-November election. This chapter began earlier in the year—in March—the season for primary elections in Texas, and it was politics as usual in South Texas. Its roots extend decades prior to 2000.
I was born and raised in South Texas, and my husband and I moved to Houston immediately after our marriage—just prior to my becoming a faithful voter.
I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I was that dutiful average citizen who always voted at election time—the general election—that is. I saw no need to vote in a primary election. I figured the Democrats and the Republicans knew their candidates best. I would choose from their “finest” come November.
When I moved back to South Texas, I learned I had to change my voting paradigm. If I wanted to have a voice in the individuals elected to local office, I needed to vote in the Democratic primaries. Come November, the Republicans offered no one for me to have a choice. If I didn’t vote in the Democrat primaries, I learned the lopsided situation would force me to become a disenfranchised voter by the default of a one-party system. But, I still stayed true and showed up regularly to vote in county, city and school elections.
But the year 2000 proved to be different, and the primaries brought me to a new paradigm. Several of my children were now voting age. It began with a series of phone calls—from three of my children who were trying to vote during the Hidalgo County primaries: a son in the military, another son away at college and a daughter who resided in the county. All were being turned down to vote. It seemed that my children were becoming the truly disenfranchised.
When the first child told me their story, I was sad to hear it. When the second was denied, I was confused and my curiosity aroused. When the third came chimed in, the red flag went up, and a mother who taught her children to be involved citizens was on the hunt to know “Why?”
The two sons had requested Absentee Ballots by Mail (ABBM)—one in the Democratic primary, the other in the Republican.
The Elections Administration office claimed the Democratic one—the U.S. Air Force officer—had an error, but they did not notify him of the issue. Although there are procedures established to rectify these situations, and there was sufficient time to notify him and correct the mistake which would allow him to process his ballot before the election, their office sat on it. Was it sloppy work or a deliberate inaction?
For the son away at college requesting the Republican ballot, they said they received the request, but could not place their hands on it and, thus, had not sent him the ballot. Was it sloppy work or deliberate inaction?
As to the child living inside the county, she had moved from one address to another, but had been told she could not vote due to the move. Not so. Procedures were in place for voters in her circumstance to vote, and it was the responsibility of officials to explain how to accomplish it. Was it sloppy work or a deliberate inaction?
The third time was the charm, and something was coming up rotten in Hidalgo County. I wanted to know what and why.
As I began to immerse myself in the election process, to question officials about the issues surrounding my children’s voting rights and to learn more about the election laws and procedures generally, another scene was brewing on the horizon—the Democratic race for County Sheriff between Henry Escalon and Tony Peña.
With no opponent in the wings for the November election, it was the usual heated “mano a mano” of Democrat against Democrat in South Texas and a race Peña lost by 47 votes. It was a margin small enough to make it worthwhile for him to contest the election and comb through the paper trail with his supporters. It needs to be re-emphasized that Peña was running for county sheriff—so his background in law enforcement gave him an investigative edge, coupled with his understanding of the election processes as a candidate.
It was this environment that laid the foundation for the formation of two separate groups which immersed themselves in reviewing the documentation and paper trails of the primaries.
Peña’s group went through the paper trail first and was focused only on the Democrat’s primary.
The group which grew from my queries began with a handful of people I personally knew who were politically astute and active, and whom I could rely on for truthful answers. It eventually grew into an organization comprised of Independents, Democrats, Republicans, Green Party members—or any other way individuals wanted to describe themselves. No one was asked their party affiliation. It didn’t matter.
The only answers we sought revolved around “What’s the truth, and how does it get fixed?” We were focused on both primaries—Republican and Democrat. Our efforts spanned almost two years.
First we asked questions—locally and at the Secretary of State’s office. I ordered a copy of the Texas Election Code and read it from front to back. I’m not sure that anyone has ever done that—even the lawmakers who keep adding to it. And then we began to probe the records in Hidalgo County.
Before we knew it, a flood of information poured in from frustrated citizens around the county asking for help as they began to get word that we were asking questions and reviewing the records.
We gained detailed insight into the sub-world of politics, politiqueras (paid election workers) and the quagmire of the Elections Administration office in Hidalgo County.
For both groups, the most glaring evidence was black and white, found in the paper trail of ABBMs and the Elections Administration office’s records. This is when South McAllen became a glaring focus of the overall pattern of abuse county-wide. But, it was only the tip of the iceberg and supported the nature of the oral complaints we received from the frustrated public.
Next week: What we found, and how the politiquera system works.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.