Texas Attorney General’s Office may investigate complaint against Hidalgo city councilman

The Texas Secretary of State’s Office referred a complaint against Hidalgo City Councilman Rudy Franz to the Texas Attorney General’s Office last week, concluding the allegation against him “warrants a submission for criminal investigation.”

Mildred Escobedo Flores — an anti-corruption activist who worked as a poll watcher during the Hidalgo Independent School District election — filed the complaint against Rudy Franz, accusing him of improperly assisting a voter last month.

Rudy Franz HeadshotTexas law allows voters to request assistance if they can’t read the ballot or suffer from a physical disability. Assistants aren’t allowed to recommend candidates.

“He immediately started suggesting and pointing at the screen, telling the voter how to vote,” Escobedo Flores said.

Rudy Franz denied any wrongdoing.

“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Rudy Franz said. “I do things by the book.”

Rudy Franz supported his son, school board Trustee Rodolfo F. Franz, who ran against former school board Trustee Carlos Cardoza Sr.

Along with his son, Rudy Franz also supported San Juan City Manager Ben Arjona, who ran for re-election, and political newcomer Mentor Alejandro Cavazos.

Rodolfo F. Franz and Cavazos lost the election. Arjona narrowly won another term.

The complaint resulted from an incident on Oct. 24, when Rudy Franz assisted a woman at Hidalgo City Hall.

Voters may request assistance for two reasons: “a physical disability that renders the voter unable to write or see” or “an inability to read the language in which the ballot is written,” according to the Texas Election Code. Anyone who provides assistance must swear not to “suggest, by word, sign, or gesture, how the voter should vote.”

After working her way down the ballot, the woman reviewed candidates for school board.

Rudy Franz suggested the woman vote for his son, Arjona and Cavazos, according to the complaint filed by Escobedo Flores, who witnessed the incident. Escobedo Flores notified a poll worker and the election judge, who warned Rudy Franz not to improperly influence the woman.

The Progress Times couldn’t reach the woman for comment.

Rudy Franz, though, said he didn’t break the rules.

He showed the woman how to select candidates, Rudy Franz said. During the process, he pointed at the voting machine.

“That’s the way I do my assisting,” Rudy Franz said, adding that he doesn’t tell people how to vote.

Rudy Franz assisted seven voters at Hidalgo City Hall, according to Hidalgo County Elections Department records released under the Texas Public Information Act.

Many elderly people and first-time voters ask him for help because they’re nervous, Rudy Franz said. Young people, who may be more familiar with touch-screen devices, seldom ask for help.

“Some people, they don’t like to make mistakes,” Rudy Franz said. “And they ask for assistance.”

Escobedo Flores said she didn’t believe Rudy Franz and accused him of attempting to improperly influence the woman.

“These people think that they’re untouchable,” Escobedo Flores said. “They think that they’re above the law. That nothing is going to happen to them.”

Frustrated by shenanigans at the ballot box, Escobedo Flores started a non-partisan organization called Election Integrity Advocates. She pores over public documents and regularly files complaints.

After a cursory review, the secretary of state’s office refers credible complaints to the attorney general’s office for investigation.

Both the complaint and referral letter remain confidential until the investigation is closed. The secretary of state’s office, however, sends a courtesy copy of the referral letter to the person who filed the complaint.

Escobedo Flores provided a copy of her complaint and the referral letter to the Progress Times.

“After review of the submitted documentation, we believe the information regarding the offense warrants a submission for criminal investigation to the Texas Attorney General as the specific allegations described involve a potential criminal offense,” according to the referral letter, which states the allegations may constitute a Class A or Class B misdemeanor.

A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

“They’re messing with our electoral process,” Escobedo Flores said. “With our community.”

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