As the legal battle between Starr County and the American Civil Rights Union continues in federal court, Deputy First Assistant Attorney General Brantley Starr stated that one of the things to come out during the discovery phase was that a deceased county judge voted after his death in 2010.
Starr testified Feb. 22 before a Senate Select Committee on Election Security that a former county judge, referring to Blas Chapa who died in May 2010, had voted after his death.
However, the attorneys representing the county in the case against the ACRU wrote a letter to Starr calling his statements untrue.
“You flippantly stated that you wanted to ‘send a shout out to the deceased judge in Starr County that had continued to vote,’” wrote attorney James Allison. “These statements are patently false.”
With his letter, Allison included copies of Starr County voter registration records that do not reflect that any votes were cast in Chapa’s name after his death.
The Monitor obtained Chapa’s voting records from the Secretary of State’s office, which shows that the former judge last voted two months before his death.
SOS records are based off of information sent to them by the county. John Rodriguez, the Starr County elections administrator, who is named as a defendant in the ACRU case, said the county records also show that the last time Chapa voted was March 2010.
Rodriguez said he didn’t know where the AG’s office received the information about the judge but speculated that there was confusion between Chapa’s records and those of his son and grandson, Blas Chapa Jr. and Blas Chapa III, respectively.
Allison, in his letter to Starr, included their records as well which show Chapa Jr. voted 10 times since his father’s death while Chapa III voted once since that time.
In response to a request for comment from the AG’s office, Marc Rylander, director of communications, said in a statement, “County election administrators face many challenges in keeping up-to-date voter rolls, including removing dead voters from the rolls. State law focuses the role of the attorney general on election crimes. We are less concerned about election administrators doing their best than on fraud that people can use to exploit an imperfect voter roll.
“At this juncture, our office can confirm there are dead voters on the rolls in Starr County. But more importantly, we can confirm at least one instance of a dead person actually voting in Starr County. We will pursue the individuals responsible for any fraudulent votes and strive to bring them to justice.”
Although District Attorney Omar Escobar confirmed that information was forwarded to the DA’s office regarding votes cast under the name of a deceased individual, it was not under Blas Chapa’s name.
“We have subpoenaed records from the elections (administration) and that’s something that we’re currently investigating,” Escobar said, adding that the aforementioned votes cast under a deceased person’s name occurred during a 2016 election.
Escobar said his office was not able to confirm or corroborate whether any votes were cast in Chapa’s name after his death because that issue was handled out of the AG’s office.
However, he clarified that since ACRU first filed the lawsuit against Starr County, the AG’s office has obtained information of which he may not be aware.
“I don’t know if (Chapa) is a possible dead person that they have been able to find, I wouldn’t be able to say,” Escobar said. “I just don’t know.”
The lawsuit filed by the ACRU accuses the county of violating the National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, by allegedly not maintaining clean voter rolls. The ACRU alleges that the county has more registered voters than there are people who are actually eligible to vote.
Court proceedings for the lawsuit, which The Monitor has reported on since they began in 2016, are scheduled to resume later this month with a pretrial hearing.
In accusing Starr of making false statements, Allison falsely stated that The Monitor had repeated Starr’s claim about Chapa.
“Since your unsubstantiated allegations, several other news organizations have repeated this charge, including the McAllen Monitor and KRGV television,” Allison wrote.
However, The Monitor has not previously reported the claims Starr made before the senate committee about the deceased judge. The Monitor article that is referenced in Allison’s letter includes quotes from Starr in which he offers his assistance in prosecuting cases that arise from the district attorney’s investigation into voter fraud. That investigation is separate from the lawsuit.