Starr County early voting on pace to be highest yet

RIO GRANDE CITY — This year’s primary election is on pace to be a record-setting one for Starr County in terms of early voting.

In just the first six days of early voting, 7,143 votes were cast at the four polling locations. With four more days of early voting left, including Tuesday which was not included in these totals, the number of early votes this year is on track to be the highest ever in Starr County — at least stretching back to 1988, the earliest year available from the Secretary of State’s office.

The last record-setting year was 2012, a presidential election year, which had 7,295 early votes.

While no major national office is on the ballot this year, the contentious county elections appear to be enough to drive the citizens to the polls.

Among the races to watch are the races for state representative for District 31, county judge, and 229th state district judge.

While those three are the most high-profile, nearly every race on the ballot this year is being contested.

As the early voting continues through Friday, leading up to primary day next Tuesday, a cloud of controversy lingers over the county this year with the ongoing investigation into voter fraud.

The investigation was launched by the office of 229th District Attorney Omar Escobar in January after the county elections department notified him of suspicious applications for mail-in ballots.

At least three people have since been arrested on charges of voter fraud and fraudulent application for ballot by mail after their names allegedly appeared on ballots filled out for disabled voters who the district attorney said were not actually disabled. This year 2,067 mail-in ballots were sent out with a total of 932 mail-in ballots received through Monday.

Another controversial element this year is the county’s regulations on electioneering. In January, the county approved a ban on electioneering on all county property and subsequently passed a property use policy, overriding the original ban. The new policy allows for the use of county property – even for electioneering – with a permit as long as the property is not a designated parking area.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Texas Civil Rights Project sued the county over those regulations arguing the policy was overly broad and therefore a violation of First Amendment Rights.

To block enforcement of the policies, MALDEF and TCRP filed an application for a temporary restraining order which the presiding judge has yet to rule on. A decision is expected within the next few days.