Starr illegal voting cases dismissed

Other cases to be re-evaluated

Two Starr County cases of illegal voting from 2016 were dismissed this week after the statute of limitations on the cases expired. However, District Attorney Omar Escobar said all illegal voting cases from that time period will have to be re-examined.

Rigoberto Vela, 49, and Rogelio Garcia, 44, were among four men arrested in February 2018 by the Starr County Special Crimes Unit on allegations of casting a ballot in a 2016 election despite being on felony probation.

Vela was accused of voting Feb. 20, 2016 as part of the March 2016 Democratic Primary, while Garcia allegedly voted May 18, 2016 in a runoff election that was also part of the 2016 Democratic Primary.

Both cases were dismissed on Wednesday, just a few weeks after their cases appeared to be moving forward.

On July 24, a grand jury issued indictments against the men, charging each with one count of illegal voting, a second-degree felony. It was the first public sign of movement on the cases since the men’s arrests in 2018. However, the deadline to bring charges against Garcia and Vela, because of the three-year statute of limitations, expired earlier this year.

Omar Escobar, 229th district attorney, said prosecutors moved forward with the indictments out of an abundance of caution but said the cases were on the back-burner, explaining that all illegal voting cases from that time need to be re-evaluated because it’s unclear whether the men knew they couldn’t vote.

That includes the cases against the two other men who were arrested with Vela and Garcia — Oscar Ivan Peña, 24, and Reynaldo Moreno, 49. They are also facing charges of illegal voting.

Peña is accused of voting Oct. 25, 2016 in the November 2016 elections for the city of Escobares, while Moreno is accused of voting Nov. 1, 2016 in the November 2016 city of Roma elections.

Their cases remain pending with a formal arraignment for Peña scheduled for October.

However, Escobar said that at the time of their arrests, the public at-large was not familiar with the types of probation that disqualified someone from voting and the types of probation that did not.

“It appears that some of these voters were told they could vote,” Escobar said, adding that there seemed to be a disconnect in communication between the district clerk’s office and the elections administration over which voters needed to be removed from the voter rolls.

“Part of the problem here is the system,” he said.