EDINBURG — Hidalgo Mayor Martin Cepeda believes more than 330 people voted illegally in Saturday’s municipal election.
Cepeda, who lost his re-election bid to council member Sergio Coronado, held a press conference at his attorney Rick Gonzalez’ office in Edinburg on Thursday morning, where he announced he will be contesting the election next week after it is canvassed.
Cepeda brought with him a list of 336 purported voters who he believes should not have voted because, he said, they don’t actually live within city limits.
Hidalgo is a small town with a population of about 14,000, and everyone knows everyone, Cepeda said. And when unfamiliar faces lined up to cast their ballots, he commissioned a group of about “eight or nine ladies” to review the voter data.
So far, the team has found discrepancies in some of the addresses that voters attested to on their registration cards, Cepeda said. Some are living in vacant lots, others in empty homes that are for sale, and a few are registered at addresses that belong to businesses.
“We have a business, a money exchange house, where we had five or six people that voted out of there,” Cepeda said. “We also had a church and a nutritional center, and we had about three people that voted out of there. So, there’s definitely something going on there.”
In 2014, The Monitor found that 36 people had registered to vote in the city by attesting they lived at 501 N. Bridge St. But the address belonged to the American Postal Center, a mail-forwarding business that rents P.O. boxes to residents.
According to information Cepeda recently obtained from the Hidalgo County Elections Department, about 690 outsiders moved into the city in the last eight months, he said. If accurate, that figure would account for about 90 percent of the city’s new registered voters since 2016, which rose by a total of 775 in the last two years.
“The concern here is not that we had over 690 persons that registered to vote in the city from September 2017 to May 2018,” Cepeda said. “The problem here is that those persons that went in and registered to vote are (really) from the surrounding cities — from McAllen, from Pharr, from Mission, from Donna and even here from Edinburg.”
The outgoing mayor blamed his opponent’s political party Tuesday, but on Thursday, he said the courts would ultimately find the person or persons responsible for the irregularities.
“I want to make sure that these people that committed fraud, that the law goes after them,” Cepeda said. “They know who they are. They know what they did. So, they’re going to pay a price for it.”
Coronado rejected the idea of any wrongdoing on his part and called the allegations false Wednesday.
But the numbers don’t add up, Cepeda said.
“In the city of Hidalgo, you don’t have over 50 percent of the voters go out and vote. It just doesn’t happen,” he said.
In the 2016 general election, about 39 percent of voters in Hidalgo cast a ballot, according to information from the county.
Cepeda lost his re-election bid by 261 votes, but his attorney believes he may not need to prove how many people voted illegally for a judge to order another election.
“Sometimes, the judge can determine on less than that if he feels there’s enough evidence that there was fraud — major fraud,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez finds himself in an interesting situation. On one hand, he is representing Cepeda, who is alleging his opponents swayed voters to fraudulently change their address so they could vote in the municipal election, and on the other, he represents the city of Edinburg, where the same allegations are being made about some of the council members he currently advises.
Gonzalez, however, doesn’t believe he is in an odd situation.
“No. I don’t think so,” he said when asked. “You’re talking about 600 people getting registered to vote in a community of what, 14,000? The city of Edinburg is close to 90,000 people — a much larger community. The percentage here is extraordinary and then you have a 50 percent voter turnout, which is extraordinary.”
Cepeda hopes a state district judge will agree with him.
“The citizens of Hidalgo don’t deserve this,” he said. “If I would have lost fair and square, I would have accepted this, but once you do this, it’s not fair for anybody.”