Talks begun to end Starr election dispute

The legal fight between the American Civil Rights Union and the Starr County Elections Administration may soon be settled out of court.

A hearing in the case scheduled for Wednesday was postponed after attorneys for the two parties submitted a request for continuance stating they were actively engaged in settlement negotiations and “believe a resolution is likely,” according to court documents.

The two sides expressed as much during the last hearing in April when Phillip Arnold, attorney for Starr County Elections Administrator John Rodriguez, said his client wanted to move on from the lawsuit.

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

The voter rolls, after all, are what the entire legal dispute has been about.

The ACRU alleged, in their lawsuit filed in 2016, that then-Elections Administrator Rafael Montalvo failed to keep an accurate list of registered voters in violation of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act. According to the suit, Starr County voter rolls reported more registered voters than citizens eligible to vote in 2014, 2012 and 2010.

According to the lawsuit, 30,198 citizens were registered to vote in Starr County but only 27,975 were eligible to vote.

Montalvo passed away in 2017, leaving Rodriguez to inherit the role and thus the lawsuit.

Arnold, his attorney, did not immediately return a request for comment on the ongoing negotiations while attorneys for the ACRU declined comment.

The case is being heard in federal court by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa who, throughout the course of the case, has often expressed frustration that no one appeared to want to take responsibility over the maintenance of the voter rolls and questioned why the ACRU wasn’t holding the secretary of state’s office responsible in the case as well.

In October 2016, the ACRU finally added the secretary of state as a co-defendant but before that, they reached out to the attorney general’s office.

Assistant Attorney General Adam Bitter argued during an August 2016 hearing in the case that the state did not have the authority to ensure that Starr County maintain proper voter lists to the judge’s incredulity.

During the April hearing, in which the parties expressed optimism for an out-of-court agreement, the judge also said he didn’t understand why the issue of the voter rolls couldn’t be addressed without a lengthy legal process.

The next hearing, if needed, is tentatively scheduled for August.

bereniceg@themonitor.com