Hidalgo council member accused of illegally assisting voters

HIDALGO — The Texas Secretary of State is asking the Texas Attorney General’s office to investigate a council member here in connection with alleged criminal activity during the November midterm election.

Keith Ingram, director of elections at the secretary of state’s office, sent a letter last week to David Maxwell, director of law enforcement at the AG’s office, asking him to investigate a complaint filed against Hidalgo Councilman Rudy Franz.

Originally filed with the secretary of state’s office by poll watcher Mildred Escobedo, the complaint alleges Franz “unlawfully assisted a voter by suggesting and instructing the voter on who to vote for while assisting them with their ballot,” Ingram wrote in his letter.

Escobedo further alleged “that Mr. Franz was asked multiple times by election workers to stop making suggestions and instructions to the voter, but that he continued to offer unlawful assistance despite those requests,” Ingram continued.

Franz, however, denied those allegations Wednesday.

“I’ve never illegally assisted anybody,” he said. “Whoever I assisted, it’s because they needed to be assisted or asked for assistance.”

But the secretary of state’s office believes an inquiry is merited.

“After review of the submitted documentation, we believe the information regarding the offense warrants a submission for criminal investigation to the Texas Attorney General as the specific allegations described involve a potential criminal offense,” Ingram wrote.

That criminal offense is outlined in the Texas Election Code, which stipulates that a person provides unlawful assistance if they “suggest by word, sign or other gesture how the voter should vote” or if they provide assistance to a voter who is not eligible for assistance.

Violations of that specific section of the code are considered Class A misdemeanors.

Franz couldn’t recall how many voters he assisted, but did say he remembered being approached by an election judge.

“The judge told me, ‘Mr. Franz, this is what you have to do,’” he recalled. “And I did tell her, ‘that’s not assisting.’”

Franz believes his hand signals were mistaken. He said he was simply telling those who wished to vote straight ticket to press the continue button.

“You’re revolving your hand like ‘next, next, next,’ cause there was like 30 pages,” he said. “And I guess that’s basically what she’s referring to.”

Hidalgo has been under scrutiny by the AG’s office since at least earlier this year, when three women were arrested on alleged voter fraud charges stemming from the city’s May 2016 runoff election.

Franz, however, believes the allegations against him are politically driven.

“Here in Hidalgo if it ain’t political, it doesn’t jive,” Franz said. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of all this stuff is political.”