The results of two March primary races in Starr County are final, a judge ruled Wednesday.
An election contest — filed by Leticia “Letty” Garza Galvan and Martie Garcia Vela, candidates for Starr County Judge and 229th state district judge, respectively — was denied by visiting Judge Joel Johnson following a five-day trial that wrapped up Friday.
The contest, filed against County Judge Eloy Vera and district judge candidate Baldemar Garza, the declared winners of the two races, alleged the final canvass of the two elections did not reflect the true results.
In his ruling, however, the judge stated Garza Galvan and Garcia Vela failed to prove their claims with “clear and convincing evidence.”
Among their claims were that people who received assistance were not properly identified, mail-in votes did not have on the envelopes the signature of the people who provided assistance, mail-in votes without proper postage were accepted, ballot boxes were not secure, ballot stuffing occurred, and that some people who served on the ballot board were ineligible. The lawsuit also noted that 147 mail ballots were rejected.
Regarding voter assistance, the judge noted election officials did not follow every protocol in the election code, but their failure to comply with those requirements does not invalidate a vote.
The contestants did not present evidence establishing that any voter who was not eligible for assistance was assisted in voting, the judge concluded.
With respect to mail-in votes, the findings stated that the evidence established probability that not all mail-in ballots have the name of the person who assisted a voter, but that did not invalidate a vote.
The judge also concluded that claims of an improperly appointed ballot board and recount board were waived when no one objected to their appointment. He also stated that claims of insecure ballot boxes and ballot stuffing were not supported by the evidence presented in the case.
“The election, while not perfect, was conducted within a zone of reasonable certainty,” the judge concluded.
“While many steps could be taken by the local Democratic Party and the County’s Election Department to better comply with the protocols of the election code,” the judge added, “no clear evidence of systemic fraudulent or error producing protocols were shown.”
James McKibben, the attorney representing Garza, the district judge candidate, said he was pleased with the ruling.
“I felt from the evidence it was very clear that they did not have a good case and that Judge Vera and Mr. Garza had won the election,” McKibben said. “And that if there were little form errors here and there, that they didn’t affect the outcome and this was the will of the voters expressed in the result.”
Garcia Vela said that while disappointed with the decision, she was thankful the trial exposed some of the errors and broke down some of the procedures.
“We are thankful the court took the time to listen to our concerns,” she said. “We’ll continue to keep the best interests of the entire community.”
Jerad Najvar, attorney for Garcia Vela and Garza Galvan, said he and his clients are reviewing the ruling and evaluating the next step, noting a related case is still pending in federal court.
“Our constitutional challenge remains pending in federal court,” he stated in an email, “which puts all 147 rejected mail ballots in issue because they were rejected in violation of those voters’ due process rights.”
Read the conclusions.