The Texas Supreme Court may decide whether or not Mission must hold a new mayoral election.
Former Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas filed a petition with the Supreme Court on May 6, asking the justices to review a decision by the 13th Court of Appeals.
“While the record contains undisputed evidence demonstrating orchestrated voter fraud, the party benefitting from that fraud is currently serving as Mission’s mayor,” according to the petition, which attorney Maitreya Tomlinson of Austin filed on behalf of Beto Salinas.
It’s the latest development in a year-long saga.
After two decades as mayor, Beto Salinas ran for re-election in May 2018 against City Councilman Armando “Doc” O’caña and businessman Jaime Gutierrez.
Beto Salinas won 49.96 percent of nearly 6,200 ballots cast, according to results published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department — three votes short of a majority.
Turnout surged during the runoff election, which pitted Beto Salinas against O’caña.
O’caña won about 51 percent of nearly 6,800 ballots cast, according to results published by the elections department.
Beto Salinas, though, claimed the O’caña campaign bribed voters and manipulated mail-in ballots. He filed an election contest.
After a two-week trial, state District Judge J. Bonner Dorsey handed down a decision from the bench.
“I find the evidence is clear that there was a combination or conspiracy by the campaign of Dr. O’caña to do this. And I say that because the evidence is that several members of the campaign were working together in concert to bribe voters, to take the mail-in ballots and mail them separately,” Dorsey said on Oct 5. “I find by clear and convincing evidence that the number of illegal votes was in excess of 158 — somewhere in excess of 158. There’s no way to possibly determine.”
O’caña, who denied any wrongdoing, appealed the decision.
Attorney Rick Salinas, who represented his father at trial, hadn’t actually identified 158 voters with problematic ballots. After eliciting eye-popping testimony about election fraud, Rick Salinas had asked an expert to estimate how many ballots had been affected.
Concerned about the estimate, the 13th Court of Appeals reversed Dorsey.
“The trial court’s conclusion relied on unreasonable inferences and unsupported assumptions,” according to the opinion signed by Chief Justice Dori Contreras.
Justice Leticia Hinojosa dissented.
“In closing, the majority puts forward that its holding safeguards a voter’s right to have his or her lawful vote counted. I believe that it does not,” Justice Hinojosa wrote. “By reversing the trial court’s judgment, the majority allows lawful votes to be diluted and may dissuade voters from participating in the electoral process.”
Dissatisfied with the decision, Beto Salinas filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court reviewed nearly 1,000 petitions last year, according to data published by the state Office of Court Administration. Justices granted just 12%.
“It’s like a Hail Mary pass on their part,” said attorney Gilberto Hinojosa, who represents O’caña.
Judges shouldn’t be allowed to order new elections based on estimates, Gilberto Hinojosa said.
“When someone guesses at something, that’s not ‘clear and convincing’ evidence,’” Gilberto Hinojosa said, referencing the evidentiary standard for election contests.
If the Supreme Court accepted that argument, justices would open the floodgates for election contests.
“They would be really changing the law in the state of Texas if they accepted that appeal,” Gilberto Hinojosa said. “That’s what you have to think about. It’s not just this case, it’s the law that you make.”
Rick Salinas said the dissenting opinion from the 13th Court of Appeals made him optimistic the Supreme Court would grant the petition for review.
“And with voter fraud being so prevalent,” Rick Salinas said, “I think it’s something that needs to be looked at.”