Starr County election fraud dispute heats up

McALLEN — The legal fight between the Starr County elections administrator and the American Civil Rights Union over the county’s voter rolls reached another level of animus over disputed claims deceased people had voted in Starr County.

Attorneys for the parties met again in federal court Thursday before U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa in the case filed by the ACRU against John Rodriguez, the elections administrator.

The ACRU alleges Rodriguez, as elections administrator, violated the National Voter Registration Act by failing to maintain clean voter rolls. In their suit, the ACRU alleges Starr County voting records showed more people registered to vote than are actually eligible to vote.

The lawsuit was initially filed against former Elections Administrator Rafael Montalvo. However, Rodriguez inherited the case after Montalvo passed away in 2017.

While the parties had hoped to reach a settlement agreement, claims that a former county judge voted after his death appeared to have thrown a wrench into the discussions.

The claim that voting records showed votes were cast under the name of former Starr County Judge Blas Chapa after his death in 2010 was made by Brantley Starr, deputy first assistant attorney general, before a Senate Select Committee on Election Security in February.

Voting records obtained by The Monitor show Blas Chapa voted two months before his death but do not indicate anyone voted in his name anytime after that.

In his testimony, Starr said the information surfaced through the discovery phase of this lawsuit but J. Christian Adams, attorney for the ACRU, said in court Thursday he believed Starr’s testimony was based off the attorney general’s office own analysis.

However, Philip Arnold, the attorney representing Rodriguez, accused the ACRU of disclosing and spreading the false information.

Whether they did so or not, the act was not grounds to dismiss the case as Rodriguez had argued, the judge said.

Hinojosa did, however, grant Rodriguez’s motion to compel the ACRU to turn over studies conducted by one of their experts.

Attorneys for the ACRU had argued that attorneys for Rodriguez already had data they collected about Starr County but Hinojosa sided with the elections administrator, stating he would still need data the expert collected from other counties for comparison and understanding of his work.

The ACRU has until Monday to turn over the information.

Despite the ongoing back and forth between the parties, they indicated there was still hope the case could be resolved out of court.

“He wants to put this behind him and do his job,” Arnold said of Rodriguez, who he said had been working with the secretary of state’s office to clean up the voter rolls.

The judge also seemed frustrated that the issue with the voter rolls, if there was one, couldn’t just be fixed without a long legal process.

“(Starr County) is the poorest in the state and it might even be the top 10 poorest in the nation,” Hinojosa said. “And they’re spending a lot of money on this.”